Andy Ross 2017-04-26
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BLOG 2017

Robert Pirsig
Camera Press
Robert Pirsig

"Der Unterschied zwischen
Vergangenheit, Gegenwart
und Zukunft ist für uns
Wissenschaftler eine
Illusion, wenn auch
eine hartnäckige
Albert Einstein

AR I think that view
of time is wrong.

Quantum chip in test rig

Spinor visualised as a vector
on a Möbius band: turning
thru a cycle inverts its sign.
This is both a model for
quantum spin and a step
toward hyper-complex

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron


2017 April 26

Robert Pirsig

The Times

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a tale of a father and son bonding, travelling on a motorcycle on a tour of western America. It discusses science and mysticism, mind and machine, and western enlightenment through reason versus eastern enlightenment through mysticism.

Pirsig was born in Minneapolis in 1928. His father was a law professor of German descent and his mother was Swedish. At age 9 Robert was assessed to have an IQ of 170 and at age 15 he entered university. He was expelled for failing grades: "Science could not teach me how to understand girls sitting in my class."

In 1946 he joined the army and served in Korea. Then he studied oriental philosophy in India. Back in Minnesota, he worked on a newspaper and met Nancy. They married in 1954 and had two sons. Pirsig wrote technical manuals, bought an old farm, and started teaching philosophy.

Pirsig went to study in Chicago, but it soured and he was given electroconvulsive shock treatment. Writing ZAMM was his salvation. After being turned down by 121 publishers, it was published in 1974. It sold 5 million copies. A sequel, Lila, appeared in 1991. Pirsig: "I felt that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was the journey out, and Lila was this trip back."

AR I loved ZAMM — one of the few books I've read twice.

2017 April 25

Google Books

James Somers

Google had a vision: All the books ever written could be as instantly accessible as web pages.

The project began in 2002 when Larry Page offered the University of Michigan a deal: Let us borrow all your books and we'll scan them for you. In just over a decade, after making deals with numerous library systems, Google had scanned about 25 million books, at a cost of $400 million.

Authors and publishers complained. They filed a class action lawsuit against Google on behalf of everyone with a US copyright interest in a book. Only about half the books published between 1923 and 1963 are in the public domain, and no one knows which half.

The Authors Guild agreed on a collective licensing regime for out-of-print books. Authors and publishers could opt out their books at any time. For the rest, Google would display and sell their books, but 63% of the revenues would go into escrow with a Book Rights Registry.

The agreement set the terms for a public utility to be deployed on terminals to local libraries nationwide. But many feared what had happened to the academic journal market: The Google Books price would be fair at first, then once libraries and universities were hooked it would rise. The Department of Justice said the settlement would give Google a monopoly.

Now Google has a database of 25 million books that no one is allowed to read.

Quantum Computing

Tom Simonite

Google is working on building a quantum chip that performs a calculation beyond the reach of a conventional computer. The chip will race a supercomputer to prove it.

Quantum chips crunch not bits but qubits. Researchers have so far demonstrated quantum computing with only small groups of qubits. Google will need a grid of 49 qubits for its "quantum supremacy" experiment, but its latest chip has only 6 qubits. Quantum processors would need to crunch many more than 50 qubits to do useful work.

The experiment could become a benchmark for a working quantum computer. It has already helped managers at Google see that the technology is on its way.

Quantum Mechanics

University of Vienna

Quantum mechanical rules work extremely well. But there are still open questions regarding the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Some scientists aim to develop alternative versions of the mathematical rules to gain new insight into the underlying reality.

In standard quantum mechanics, the rules use complex numbers. An alternative theory uses hyper-complex numbers, which are a generalization of complex numbers. Hyper-complex rules can replicate most of the predictions of the standard rules, but some operations that commute in standard quantum mechanics do not commute in a hyper-complex world.

A team tested for deviations from standard quantum mechanics predicted by hyper-complex rules. An interferometer allowed a photon to travel both ways around a loop at the same time. Their loop included a normal optical material and a specially designed metamaterial. The normal optical material slowed down the photons, whereas the metamaterial sped them up.

The rules of standard quantum mechanics say light behaves the same whether it first passes through a normal material and then through a metamaterial or vice versa — the effects of the two materials commute. In a hyper-complex world, they might not. The team verified that hyper-complex rules are not needed in this case.

AR That's a relief — the complex rules are complicated enough.

2017 April 24

Emmanuel Macron v Marine Le Pen

Financial Times

Emmanuel Macron looks likely to beat Marine Le Pen in the second round of French elections on May 7. A centrist who supports open markets and France staying in the EU, he took 23.75% in the first-round vote, ahead of Ms Le Pen at 21.53% (definitive results as of 0702 ET).

The euro jumped 2 cents against the US dollar as the results were confirmed, pushing above $1.09 (with the pound at $1.27 / €1.17).

Un immense gâchis

Alexis Brézet

Ainsi donc, l'imperdable a été perdu. L'impensable s'est imposé. L'impossible est advenu. La droite, qui pendant cinq ans aura étrillé les socialistes dans tous les scrutins, la droite, dont les idées et les valeurs n'ont jamais été aussi majoritaires dans les profondeurs du pays, cette droite à qui la victoire ne pouvait pas échapper a été, hier, sèchement éliminée. Alors que le désir d'alternance, après un quinquennat unanimement jugé calamiteux, n'a jamais été aussi puissant, elle ne sera pas, pour la première fois de son histoire, représentée au second tour de l'élection présidentielle.

2017 St George's Day

En Marche! La France

Le Figaro

Estimations sofres à 20h00, 1er tour en % des suffrages exprimés:
23% Emmanuel Macron, 23% Marine Le Pen

Planet Over Presidency

Bill McKibben

We have only a short window to deal with the climate crisis or else we forever lose the chance to thwart catastrophic heating.

In Paris in 2015, leaders pledged to try to hold global warming to 1.5 K. But at current rates of burning coal, gas, and oil, we are on course to overheating.

The hope was that growth in renewable energy would begin to close the gap between what physics demands and what our political systems have so far delivered.

But President Trump will slow that momentum. The effects will be felt for many years. The effects of climate change policy are forever.

Earth Day

NK missile
NK dummy?

USS Carl Vinson
US Navy
USS Carl Vinson
"We are sending an armada,
very powerful. We have
submarines, very powerful,
far more powerful than the
aircraft carrier, that I can tell
you. And we have the best
military people on Earth."
Donald Trump


2017 Earth Day

Fast Radio Bursts

Katia Moskvitch

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) last just a few milliseconds, but they are the most luminous radio signals in the universe. When a repeating FRB was spotted, the extragalactic magnetar model became the most popular theory.

Astronomers spotted a flash that made eight reappearances, originating in a dwarf irregular galaxy about 1 Gpc away. The data seems consistent with the magnetar theory. Magnetars generally form from Type-I superluminous supernovas, which appear relatively often in dwarf irregular galaxies.

Each generation of stars since the Big Bang has increased the metallicity of the universe. But dwarf irregular galaxies formed from primordial hydrogen and helium. Their low metallicity lets them make more massive stars, which die to form highly magnetized neutron stars, or magnetars.

Brian Metzger guesses that the repeater is a young magnetar, a newborn neutron star, probably less than 3 Gs old, with a powerful and unstable magnetic field that pumps energy into the expanding cloud of supernova debris, which absorbs the energy and occasionally releases FRBs.

Another idea is that FRBs are emitted by active galactic nuclei (AGNs). AGNs are thought to be powered by supermassive black holes, and many of them have jets that could beam FRBs into space. But AGNs usually exist in bigger galaxies, not dwarfs.

We need more data.

2017 April 21

NK Nightmare

Nicholas Kristof

Leaning on China to pressure North Korea could fail. Then Donald Trump gets mad and destroys an NK test missile on its launchpad with a barrage of cruise missiles. Result: a new Korean war.

North Korea might respond by firing artillery at Seoul, a metropolitan area of 25 million people. The NK regime would be destroyed, but the country has a huge army and missiles that can reach Tokyo. A war could cause a million casualties and $1 trillion in damage.

US and South Korean policies toward North Korea have failed over the years. If Trump tries a pre-emptive military strike, heaven help us.

German-US Trade

David Böcking, Christian Reiermann

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has flown to Washington to report to Team Trump.

The German trade surplus is mainly the result of market decisions made by companies and consumers. The surplus was 8.6% of GDP in 2015 and 8.3% in 2016, and is estimated at 7.5% in 2017 and 7.0% in 2018. Around half of it is due to structural factors such as the global competitiveness of German vendors and the quality and complexity of German products.

German companies and private citizens invest abroad to earn profits that account for a quarter of the current account surplus. German investors hold a stake in more than 3,000 American companies employing around 672,000 people, accounting for a total turnover of €466 billion. In 2016 alone, $63 billion in German capital flowed into the US. This is due to US importance to the global economy and to the global role of the dollar.

Germany has taken steps to reduce the surplus. A minimum wage and €11 billion in tax cuts will increase domestic demand and public investment has increased by 45%. Germany has no influence on the exchange rate and applies no protectionist measures.

Whether all this will convince Team Trump is unclear.

German-UK Trade

Tony Barber

Germany exported goods and services worth about €100 billion to the UK in 2015, notching up a bilateral trade surplus of about €40 billion. Direct and indirect German investments in the UK amount to almost €110 billion. Fewer than 10% of German companies expect a negative impact from Brexit, mostly from lower British demand and a weaker pound.

For Germany the integrity and success of the EU are matters of existential importance. Sophia Besch and Christian Odendahl: "Berlin ... considers disintegration of the EU the biggest Brexit risk ... In Germany's view, Brexit is geopolitical vandalism."

2017 April 20

Dover and Out

Jonathan Freedland

Britain will leave the EU at the stroke of midnight on March 29, 2019. Theresa May: "This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back."

May will take the UK out of both the single market and the customs union. Membership in the single market meant accepting the four freedoms: freedom of goods, capital, services, and people. Continuing to embrace that last freedom was a red line for May. She is equally determined to break free of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which means leaving the customs union too.

Remainers see big holes in the government case. May and her ministers say they want frictionless free trade with Europe, on the best possible terms. They want continued close security cooperation. They want free trade in a world turning to protectionism. They want Britain to be a global magnet, attracting people of ambition. That was what the UK had, until they decided to throw it all away.

2017 April 19


The Times

Theresa May is on course to win a majority of more than 100 in a June snap election, with Labour pro-Brexit voters deserting Jeremy Corbyn, according to polling data.

"Since when did prime ministers and party leaders deliver Easter messages? ... Mrs May's rather bland one ... did suggest a Christian duty to unite in support of Brexit."
Matthew Parris

$1 Trillion to Fix US Roads


President Donald Trump will soon reveal his $1 trillion plan to fix everything. But $1 trillion will barely cover what the Department of Transportation estimates is a $836 billion backlog in US highway investment needs.

The US road construction and repair funding system is broke. The Highway Trust Fund comes from gas and diesel pump taxes, but Congress has not raised the gas tax since 1993. Congress stabilized funding for a few years and kicked the can down the road. But in the long term, if vehicles continue to get more fuel efficient and electric cars catch on with the US public, the tax revenues will fall.

The 2015 transportation bill finally funded a study of a road usage tax, where people pay per mile they drive instead of per gallon they burn. This could raise as much as $246 billion by 2020. California has just wrapped up the largest ever US pilot study of a road usage charge. The great majority of participants thought it was fairer than a gas tax and liked road charging as a concept.

AR The pay per mile scheme gets my vote for funding UK roads too.

Poole Bay 2017-04-18
My local beach, a few hours after the May statement

Newly elected AAAS member
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
helped envision the POLIN
Museum of the History
of Polish Jews

US President Donald Trump
wants a ride in the Queen's
golden coach during his
state visit this year.

AR Bling



NASA's Cassini spacecraft
has found molecular hydrogen
in the water plumes of Saturn's
moon Enceladus. The ice shell
has fractures with plumes of
liquid water from a subsurface
ocean containing organics and
carbon dioxide. The hydrogen
is likely produced at hot vents
on the ocean floor. Enceladus
now looks like our best bet for
finding extraterrestrial life.
The Cassini mission will
end on 2017-09-15.


2017 April 18


Theresa May

I have just chaired a meeting of the Cabinet, where we agreed that the Government should call a general election, to be held on June 8.

Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back. We want a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world.

We need a general election now, while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.


Meghan O'Gieblyn

I first read Ray Kurzweil's book The Age of Spiritual Machines in 2006. A few years earlier, I had dropped out of Bible school and stopped believing in God. I was living alone in Chicago and working nights as a cocktail waitress.

Kurzweil divided all of evolution into successive epochs. We were living in the fifth epoch, when human intelligence begins to merge with technology. Soon we would reach the Singularity and be transformed into spiritual machines. We would resurrect our minds onto supercomputers and our bodies would become incorruptible.

Transhumanists say they are carrying on the legacy of the Enlightenment. Most are atheists. Some transhumanists say true resurrection can happen only if it is bodily resurrection. They tend to favor cryonics and bionics. The question of whether the resurrection would be corporeal or merely spiritual was debated by early Christians.

My doubts about God began after I read The Brothers Karamazov. I could not reconcile the idea that an omnipotent and benevolent God could allow so much suffering. Transhumanism offered redemption without the problems of divine justice.

Oxford philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom suggested that we live in a Matrix-like simulation and that the posthumans running it are like gods in relation to us. Simulation theologists say it is reasonable to assume that our creators are benevolent because the capacity to build sophisticated technologies requires rational purpose and social harmony.

Christian Transhumanism Association chairman Christopher Benek told me Jesus was both fully human and fully God. Science had verified the potential for matter to have two distinct natures. Superposition, a principle in quantum theory ...

AR Cut — Ed.

2017 April 17


Maximilian Popp

Turks voted yes. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won a narrow majority for introducing a presidential system that puts all the power at the top. After a hundred years of parliamentary democracy, Turkey will be become a one-man state.

The referendum should never have taken place. Citizens were forced to decide on a constitutional change during a state of emergency. Erdogan mobilized the entire state for his campaign yet won by less than 2%. In the three biggest cities — Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir — he lost.

Erdogan can now dissolve parliament whenever he likes. He can side with one party and can pick new constitutional judges. He will abolish the post of prime minister and reintroduce the death penalty.

Europe and Turkey are partners in NATO and about 3 million Turks live in Germany. Turkey depends on EU trade, so the EU can exert leverage in negotiations on deepening the customs union. The EU should work with Turkish civil society and offer refuge to persecuted journalists and academics.

AR Trexit.


Financial Times

A year after the Treasury forecast that leaving the bloc would hit the UK economy hard, economists agree that the report mostly stands the test of time.

Consumer willingness to spend since the referendum suggests that they think the government assessment of a permanent long-term hit to incomes was wrong. Economists still think consumers are likely to be proved wrong.

The Treasury analysis predicted that Brexit would reduce trade and foreign investment in the UK, reducing the growth rate. The harder the Brexit, the worse the predicted effect. The ultimate impact of leaving the EU looks more negative than positive.

MIT economics professor John Van Reenan: "As we get closer to the end of Article 50 and a hard Brexit looks likely, I suspect this is when the proverbial will hit the fan."

EU Goes Pear-Shaped

Hans-Werner Sinn

Brexit is a problem for the EU. The British economy is as big as that of the 20 smallest member states combined. It is as if those 20 were leaving the EU at once.

Brexit destroys the European equilibrium. In the European Council, a blocking minority needs 35% of the EU population. The UK and the Deutschmark bloc (Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Finland) have a population of 35%. These countries favor free trade.

The Club Med bloc has a population share of 36%. After Brexit, the first block shrinks to a share of 25%. Club Med grows to 42%, and they favor protectionism.

AR Brexit wrecks the EU and the UK. Well done — NOT!

British Islands, Child Sex

The Sunday Times

British overseas territories are among the world's leading hosts of websites with images of child sexual abuse. UK Council for Child Internet Safety executive member John Carr urged ministers to intervene to place UK overseas territories under the same rules as the .uk domain.

AR All these little British overseas territories, these toxic remnants of empire, should be offered a choice between subjection to full and enforced domestic UK law and tax legislation or complete and unsupported independence. Their present status is disgraceful, an affront to all decent taxpayers in properly regulated states.

2017 Easter Sunday


No news is good news.

2017 April 15


Will Self

My father was British and my mother American, and Jewish. In my youth I railed against all states. I enjoyed the upside of living in a cosmopolitan city. When I was growing up in London, people always banged on about how polyglot it was.

Remainers failed to explain how the EU was going to prevent the 1% getting relentlessly richer. Windy talk of human rights is always an appeal to the world government, which would be the only institution capable of enforcing them.


Liel Leibovitz

For most of us, the Passover story is a tale of liberation, in which an oppressed minority rebels and resists the oppressive might of a wicked regime. But try to see things from the other side.

The Pharaoh proceeds cautiously at first, afflicting the Israelites with no more than hard labor. When that proves to be bad policy, he escalates. By the time Moses arrives, the remaining Israelites are so thoroughly persecuted they lose the spirit to rise up. Moses understands that nothing short of divine intervention can redeem them.

Israel is mired in a futile struggle against Palestinian terrorism, America is wasting time on Daesh, Europeans cannot stop Islamist fanatics. We think each oppressed people, whether afflicted by real burdens or by imagined slights, will raise itself up. The Egyptians failed to crush the Israelites — the oppressed will not be crushed.

Follow this argument to its logical end, and your best bet is to try and appease your enemy. But the Pharaoh story also shows you can wage a gradually escalating war against your foes and achieve a victory so crushing that they need divine intervention to survive.

2017 April 14

Germany and Europe

Der Spiegel

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) faces a challenge from chancellor candidate Martin Schulz (SPD) and foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD). They want relaxation of the austerity demands on southern EU states and want to expand the EU mandate into a social dimension. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and many southern EU heads of government want the same.

Merkel is opposed to transferring more social competencies and money to Brussels. Her circle wants reforms and competitiveness, citing polls showing a clear majority of Germans opposed to more aid for Athens. Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble and his counterparts in other EU member states want further austerity in Athens.

Gabriel thinks it was a mistake to let Merkel set EU policy: "There is significant support for Europe on the center-left. I think it is possible to win an election on appeals for a more socially minded Europe ... We Social Democrats are in favor of an EU pursuing the harmonization of living conditions."

A Foreign Ministry paper on pillars of social rights advocates more money for education, mobility and research, and more EU money for the fight against youth unemployment to boost development in poorer regions. EPP parliamentarian Manfred Weber: "A campaign focused on Europe is fine with us. We have the support of many voters."

European Commission proposals for a European pillar of social rights include a comprehensive package of social rights to create equal opportunity on the job market along with minimum salaries, unemployment benefits, and health care.

Gabriel's campaign lets Merkel sit between the extremes as the voice of reason.

Britain and Europe

Chris Giles

Brexit is bad news. At best, the UK and the EU27 will reach an agreement they both believe serves their interests reasonably well. At worst, Britain risks a disorderly exit.

The UK seeks a deep and special partnership with the EU after Brexit. It hopes to protect the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and UK citizens living in EU member states. It wants a soft border in Northern Ireland, free trade in goods with minimal customs barriers, an ambitious services trade agreement, and security and policing cooperation.

The EU27 seeks guarantees for citizens and a good solution for Ireland, but otherwise starts out from the status quo. Since the EU is happy with Britain as a member state, it seeks compensation from the UK for damaging changes.

Britain starts from a fantasy in which the UK is already outside the EU and seeking a better relationship, while the EU 27 is grounded in reality. Britain will have to budge.

Brits must face the facts. May will do her best. The EU demand for a financial divorce settlement is reasonable. Gibraltar cannot get the same EU deal as the UK.

2017 April 13

Trump Flip-Flops


President Donald Trump on NATO: "I said it was obsolete; it's no longer obsolete."

In a WSJ interview, Trump praised Chinese president Xi Jinping, backed down a threat to brand China a currency manipulator, and eased off on his demands for China to reverse the trade imbalance with the United States.

Trump decried Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as a "butcher" and might now advocate regime change.

Trump: "Right now we are not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia."

He even publicly criticized his political guru Steve Bannon.

A wild first 100 days.

The Science of Consciousness

June 5-10, San Diego, California

The 2017 conference was scheduled in Shanghai, China, June 5-10, but due to unforeseen circumstances is moving to The Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine, near the UCSD campus.

TSC is the world's largest and longest-running interdisciplinary conference on all aspects of the nature of conscious experience, awareness, feelings and existence. Questions include how the brain produces consciousness, whether consciousness is intrinsic to the universe, or an epiphenomenal illusion, how consciousness can causally affect brain processes, what are the best empirical theories, do we have free will, how did life and consciousness originate and evolve, what are the origins of moral and aesthetic values, how can we improve mental, physical and cognitive function, and can consciousness persist after bodily death. These are approached through science, philosophy, culture, and contemplative practices.

TSC began at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1994, and returns there in even-numbered years, alternating with TSC conferences around the globe.

AR I was at Tucson in 2000 and 2002, as well as at the TSC meetings in Denmark in 1997, Sweden in 2001, and the Czech Republic in 2003. I also liked the ASSC meetings in Bremen in 1998, Oxford in 2006, and Berlin in 2009.

TSC 2017

"We will hold the US wholly
accountable for the catastrophic
consequences to be entailed
by its outrageous actions."

China moves 150,000 troops
and medical supplies to
NoKo border

Jupiter, 668 Gm away
HST, 2017-04-03

"Political imagination seems
exhausted. Not one major party
in the US or the UK offers our
children something their
grandparents didn't have."
Caitlin Moran

"Bannon is just a conniving
hateful bloated punk who
despises mankind."
Sean Penn



Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump


President Trump removed
Steve Bannon from the NSC
and restored senior military
and intelligence officials,
in a change arranged by
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

AR Good work, Mac.

"The choice of the British
 people, however respectable
that may be, does not fit
into the march of history
— not European history
and not global history."
Jean-Claude Juncker

WWW Inventor
Tim Berners-Lee
Wins ACM Turing Prize

AR Congratulations!
I talked with him
@ WWW2004


Thomas Royen
Rüdiger Nehmzow
Thomas Royen

Derek Parfit
Gail Campbell, 2017
Derek Parfit
Nurse: "Jesus Christ had only
12 disciples, but look at you!
You're clearly a very important
man. What do you do?"
Parfit: "I work on
what matters."


2017 April 12

Ghost in the Shell

The Observer

The groundbreaking 1995 original Ghost in the Shell, based on a manga series by Masamune Shirow, was a masterpiece. The Hollywood remake has dialled down the introspection, beefed up the action, and tweaked the enigmatic plot.

The result is not so dumbed down that it loses the original chilly techno-dread. Scarlett Johansson dives deep into a tricky role, a character who is as much a sentient weapon as she is a human consciousness. The visual impact is breathtaking.

AR Despite the Hollywood action format, the philosophical issues about human or cyborg identity come over clearly. The future cityscape is richly imagined and chillingly plausible. And Johansson as Japanese is amusing.


The New York Times

Modern London is the metropolis that globalization created. London is banker to the planet. It is as much city-state as city, with a culture and economy that circulate the world.

Modern London thrives on the idea that one city can be a global melting pot, a global trading house, and a global media machine. The thought is that being connected to the rest of the world is something to celebrate.

What happens to London when that idea unexpectedly falls away? Brexit is probably the noisiest and most complicated divorce in modern European history. The certainties that sustained a great city are no longer certain.

Those who voted for Britain to leave the European Union say London is reclaimed. But banks, investment firms, and other companies are making plans to move elsewhere.

AR From potential capital of Europe to actual capital of a rocky outcrop.

2017 April 11

North Korea


Carrying more than 5,000 sailors and 60 aircraft, the Nimitz-class carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) is heading for North Korea. She is escorted by guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Michael Murphy and the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain. The three escort warships have more than 300 combined missile tubes and are outfitted with the Aegis ABM system.

Peter Layton, a visiting fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute in Brisbane, Australia:
"The Carl Vinson group is commanded from Hawaii, rather than the US military base in Japan, so it's a clear American initiative not a Japanese or South Korea one. That may defuse attempts to link Japan and South Korea and thus limit the possibility of any North Korean aggression against them."

Former CIA and NSA head retired General Michael Hayden:
"No matter what we do there is this move by North Korea to build missiles and put weapons on top of missiles. This is what they count on for regime survival. ... The best we can do is box it where it is right now. I don't think we can make them give up the program."

2017 April 10


Nicola Davis

Researchers have found that the dreaming brain and the waking brain often recruit the same areas for the same types of experience. Dreaming about faces is linked to increased high-frequency activity in the brain region for face recognition, and so on.

Francesca Siclari and colleagues made a series of EEG recordings of participants who were sleeping. The participants were awakened periodically and asked if they had been dreaming. If they had, they were asked how long they thought the dream had lasted and what they could remember of it.

The researchers linked dreaming to a drop in low-frequency activity in a cortical hot zone including visual areas and areas involved in sensory integration. This held regardless of whether the dream was remembered or not and whether it occurred during REM or non-REM sleep.

The researchers also linked dreaming to an increase in high-frequency activity in the hot zone during non-REM sleep and linked dream recall to an increase in high-frequency activity toward the forebrain. They saw similar activity in the hot zone and beyond for dreams during REM sleep.

The team learned to predict dreaming from the EEG trace with high confidence. The study could help clarify the nature of consciousness by revealing what happens in the brain during sleep when we switch from unconscious to conscious states.

2017 April 9

Globocop Redux

Niall Ferguson

President Donald Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian airfield in Homs. I think we can now discern the beginning of an improvement in US foreign policy.

The head of the Russian propaganda outlet RT observed darkly that the airstrikes had been ordered on the centenary of the US entry into WW1.

President Woodrow Wilson opted for intervention in Europe. He chose to tip the scales in favor of Britain and France. He had a strategy.

Trump has shown the world that a new sheriff is in town. He has shown Chinese President Xi Jinping that he will not shirk from using force against North Korea.

This does not amount to a coherent strategy to stabilize the Mideast.

AR The Wilson strategy led to WW2.


Oliver Bullough

The Rock imported 117 million packs of cigarettes in 2013. This epic Russian smuggling operation may have cost EU countries €700 million in lost tax revenues.

Gibraltar used to be a naval garrison blockaded by Spain. When the money dried up with the end of the cold war, the Rock had to diversify. Like other British colonies, it did so by aggressively undercutting the rules and taxes of its neighbors.

There are more than 60,000 companies registered in Gibraltar. These undermine the UK as much as everyone else. A recent Gib growth industry has been online gambling.

Gibraltar is loyal, it guards the gates to the Med, it loves Britain and the Queen. This is like a kid who visits his gran every weekend, just so he can nick her pension.

AR Give it back to Spain.

2017 April 8

Quantum Weirdness

Anil Ananthaswamy

David Bohm developed a quantum theory in which a wave with properties identical to that of the standard wave function guides particles around. In his picture, if particles are entangled, a common pilot wave guides them, and any change in the position or momentum of one particle instantly changes the pilot wave, thus influencing all the other particles.

In a new double-slit experiment, researchers created pairs of photons with entangled polarizations, and sent one photon of each pair through a double slit that would let a vertically polarized photon through slit A and a horizontally polarized photon through slit B. Measuring the polarization of the second photon revealed the polarization of the photon passing through the slits.

The team determined the path of the traveling photon as it went through the apparatus and measured the polarization state of the associated probe photon. They did this with tens of thousands of photon pairs, and found that, on average, at the moment a photon passed through slit A, the probe photon would be vertically polarized, as expected. When a traveling photon was measured at a position on the screen corresponding to having passed through slit A, half the time the polarization of the probe photon was horizontal, suggesting that the traveling photon had passed through slit B.

The experiment shows that the moving photon is constantly changing the polarization of the probe photon. Look at the probe photon at the moment the moving photon goes through a slit, and there is no contradiction. But look at it the moment the moving photon hits the screen and, half of the time, its polarization state has changed. Bohmian theory accepts this nonlocality.

Bohmian mechanics is formulated to replicate the predictions of standard quantum mechanics for non-relativistic particles. By contrast, quantum field theory is Lorentz invariant. Attempts to marry Bohmian ideas with special relativity still fail.

AR Locality fails in Bohmian mechanics, so it offers no advantage over standard quantum theory, just a lot of traditional metaphysical baggage that physicists should learn to drop. My interpretation is closer to Copenhagen but better adapted to general relativity and information theory.

2017 April 7

Trump Raises the Stakes

Dennis B. Ross

President Trump's decision to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Al Shayrat air base in Syria was swift and purposeful. The United States has sent a powerful message that there is a price for using chemical weapons.

AR His baptism of fire.


David Aaronovitch

Die Welt gerät aus den Fugen. UK governments had stuck to their promises, delivered to their allies, and been diplomatically astute. But now the UK seems to have gone mad. The prime minister gave the job of foreign secretary to a man who campaigned for Brexit and who compared the EU to the Nazi occupation.

The European Research Group is the most powerful opposition force in British politics. The group wants a hard Brexit: little or no severance money to the EU, little or no jurisdiction from the European Court, a gung-ho up-yours stance on relationships with the single market, and impatience with those who dislike their vision.

Two weeks ago the Daily Telegraph published a letter from 70 MPs demanding that the BBC tell the good news about Brexit. In the last week MPs have played a kind of Monty Python sketch of competitive bragging, where one says we won't pay anything and another adds: "Never mind paying nothing, they should pay us!"

ERG people are busy talking with themselves about what a good position we are all in. One said the EU negotiators won't really insist on getting their money before talking about trade. In a normal parliament a strong opposition could act as a corrective to this sort of fantasy. How can our EU partners take it seriously?

AR If the UK sets itself against the EU, only one of the unions will survive. Place your bets: a little old union with toytown politics, medieval institutions, and a broken economy takes on a big new one with an unparalleled cultural heritage, modern political institutions, and one of the strongest economies in the world.

The Age of Genius

Steven Nadler

In 1633, René Descartes learned that Galileo had been convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church and punished with a life sentence of house arrest. Descartes was shaken enough to suppress a treatise he had written based on the heliocentric model of Copernicus. Something special happened in philosophy in the seventeenth century, and especially in natural philosophy, science.

The New Philosophy was characterized by a reliance on reason and evidence rather than devotion to religious or ancient authority. Truth was a matter of discovery, not decree. Philosophy pursued causal explanations of phenomena based on experiment and mathematics. Popular accounts of modern philosophy typically start with Descartes, who in 1637 said cogito ergo sum.

2017 April 6

My White House Role

Ivanka Trump

I think there are multiple ways to have your voice heard. Where I disagree with my father, he knows it. And I express myself with total candor. Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda and make a positive impact. But I respect the fact that he always listens. It's how he was in business. It's how he is as president.

I am confident in my father to be able to execute on his promise to the people who elected him. I think the election highlighted for people just how divided this country was. We're in a unique time where noise equals, in a lot of people's perception, advocacy. And I fundamentally disagree with that. I do think there's a time for public denouncement. I also think there's a time for discussion.

I wasn't elected by the American people to be president. My father is gonna do a tremendous job. And I wanna help him do that. But I don't think that it will make me a more effective advocate to constantly articulate every issue publicly where I disagree. I think most of the impact I have, over time, most people will not actually know about.

If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I'm complicit. I don't know that the critics who may say that of me, if they found themselves in this unique and unprecedented situation that I am now in, would do any differently than I'm doing. So I hope to make a positive impact. I hope time will prove that I have done a good job and, much more importantly, that my father's administration is the success that I know it will be.

AR Sounds good to me.

2017 April 5

German President Attacks Brextremism

The Guardian

German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier told MEPs in the European Parliament that the Brextremists would be unable to deliver on their promise to take back control.

He said he was convinced that in this world a single European country standing alone and without the EU cannot make its voice heard or assert its economic interests. Only as partners on the world stage can Europeans avoid becoming the playthings of other powers.

He said Brextremist promises would come to nothing, "Take back control" is a strong slogan but nationalists are unable to deliver it, and if it can be delivered then it is something we can only do together.

He described the UK vote to leave as "bitter" and said Germany fully supported the European project. He dismissed Donald Trump's claims the EU was a vehicle for German economic dominance.

In English, Steinmeier added: "In my country, yes, we want Europe. We want to build a better Europe and we want to be a European Germany."

European People's Party bloc leader Manfred Weber: "Some of the politicians in London have not understood what leaving the European Union means. It means being alone."

British leader of Conservative MEPs Ashley Fox: "The European Parliament claims to represent all the citizens of the EU, and until we leave that includes UK citizens. Therefore, Conservative MEPs intend to continue playing a full role in all debates, including discussions on Brexit. To suggest otherwise is both unconstitutional and undemocratic."

Exit vom Brexit

Markus Becker

Ein Widerruf der Austrittsmitteilung durch die Briten dürfte nur unter Bedingungen, die von allen Mitgliedstaaten der EU-27 festgelegt werden, möglich sein.

Rechtsdienst des Europaparlaments: "Es herrscht weitgehende Einigkeit, dass der Austrittsprozess gestoppt werden könnte, wenn alle anderen Mitgliedstaaten zustimmen."

Der Europäische Gerichtshof müsste entscheiden.

AR EuGH — von Brextremisten verflucht!


2017 April 4

European Security

Edward Lucas

Germans sometimes call Brits Inselaffen — island monkeys — unpredictable, backward, quarrelsome, and isolated. The term has boomed since Brexit.

At the annual Königswinter conference last weekend, British participants tried to outline a new post-Brexit Anglo-German relationship. The best line was that Brexit was a resolution, not a dissolution. Instead of moaning about EU integration, Britain would now engage on things like security.

Security problems abound:

The Balkans are awash with Russian influence and jihadists.
Europe has failed in Syria, in Libya, and in the Mideast.
Turkey is descending headlong into autocracy.
NATO deterrence in the Baltic states is still fragile.
The war in Ukraine bubbles on.
Democracy and the rule of law are under strain.

Serious shit, as one German said.

Germany and Britain complement each other. Germany is the economic giant, Britain is the leading military and intelligence power. German defense spending may not reach 2% of GDP, but it may hit 3% on defense and conflict prevention combined.

Britain objects to an ECJ ruling that would prohibit GCHQ from collecting and storing internet data. Brexit will solve that problem for the Inselaffen.



EU draft negotiating document on Brexit: "After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom."

That prompted fury in Britain. Former Conservative party leader Lord Michael Howard: "I do think it is a remarkable coincidence that 35 years ago this week another woman prime minister sent a task force half way across the world to protect another small group of British people against another Spanish speaking country."

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: "I think the position of the government is very, very clear, which is that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is unchanged, and it's not going to change and cannot conceivably change without the express support and consent of the people of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, and that is not going to change."

Spain called for cool heads. Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis: "Frankly, it seems to me that someone in the United Kingdom is losing their temper."

Gibraltar is classified as a British Overseas Territory. The UK has held sovereignty over Gibraltar for more than 300 years after it was captured from Spain in a war. In a 2002 referendum Gibraltar residents rejected a proposal to share the territory between the UK and Spain, but in the 2016 referendum 96% of them voted to stay in the European Union.

Between a Rock and a Hard Brexit
Sean O'Grady

Gibraltar is a remnant of the British Empire. Spain will not forget about the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht that assigned the Rock to the UK.

The Kingdom of Spain is soon to be the fourth largest EU economy and has the backing of the entire European Union. The Brexit choice may be between:
— A good deal for the UK and Gibraltar shared with Spain
— A hard and hostile Brexit plus a blockade of Gibraltar

The UK will also need to be mindful of its base on EU member Cyprus.

Großbritannien verliert die Contenance
Die Welt

Der Vorschlag, in den Krieg gegen Spanien zu ziehen, stammt aus Michael Howard. Der ehemalige Vorsitzende der Konservativen Partei, der sich seit sieben Jahren Baron Howard of Lympne nennen darf, brachte den Krieg von seinem Wohnzimmersofa aus ins Spiel.

Gibraltar ist nur halb so groß wie die Falklandinseln, besitzt aber etwa 30.000 Einwohnern. Vor etwa 300 Jahren fiel der Fels in britische Hand. Die spanische Bevölkerung wurde vertrieben. Der Landzipfel ist dem breiteren Publikum vor allem als notorische Steueroase ein Begriff.

Spanien hat den Schotten nun weiteren Auftrieb verschafft: Madrid hat seine bisherige Opposition zum EU-Beitritt eines unabhängigen Schottlands gerade aufgeben. Gibraltar hat mehrheitlich gegen den Brexit gestimmt: 96% der Bevölkerung waren gegen den Austritt.

Madrid hat sich zurückgehalten. Außenminister Alfonso Dantis: "Die spanische Regierung ist ein wenig überrascht über den Ton, den Großbritannien anschlägt. In diesem Fall mangelt es eindeutig an der traditionellen britischen Contenance."

AR Ein Hauch von deutscher Schadenfreude da!


2017 April 3

World Exclusive

Donald Trump

I have great respect for Xi Jinping. I have great respect for China. China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won't. If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.

Look where we are. We have an $800 billion trade deficit. The Mideast is a mess. This is a very, very serious problem that we have in the world today. The United States has talked long enough and you see where it gets us, it gets us nowhere. 

I think Brexit is very good for the UK. I would have thought when it happened that more would follow, but I really think the European Union is getting their act together. It could be a very good thing for both. There is a different spirit for holding together.

Bull's Eye!

Natalie Wolchover

In July 2014, German statistician Thomas Royen proved a famous conjecture at the intersection of geometry, probability theory, and statistics that had eluded experts for decades.

The Gaussian correlation inequality (GCI) was posed in an elegant form in 1972. Royen, 67, found it could be extended into a statement he was familiar with, and suddenly saw how to prove it.

His proof was short and simple. He typed it up and posted it to False proofs of the GCI had been floated repeatedly over the decades, so at first his achievement went unrecognized.

In its 1972 form, the GCI puts a lower bound on the odds in a game of darts. Imagine two overlapping convex polygons A and B centered on a target point. Darts thrown at the target will land in a bell curve distribution of positions around the center point. The GCI says the probability that a dart will land inside both A and B is at least as high as the probability of landing in A times the probability of landing in B. The same inequality was thought to hold for any two convex symmetrical shapes with any number of dimensions centered on a point.

Royen found he could generalize the GCI to apply to statistical spreads related to the squares of Gaussian distributions, called gamma distributions. His familiarity with gamma distributions sparked his epiphany. He transformed his function into a simpler function and saw that the derivative of this transformed function was equivalent to the transform of the derivative of the original function. The latter derivative was always positive, proving the GCI. Experts say any graduate student in statistics could follow his proof.

Royen: "It is like a kind of grace. We can work for a long time on a problem and suddenly ... a good idea."

2017 April 2


Niall Ferguson

Brexit will be much more protracted and expensive than the worst imaginable divorce. Both sides: "Never again will those impossible people on the other side of the Channel be able to interfere in our affairs. Now we can take back control and sit back and watch their union fall apart."

Schisme est le mot juste — recall the great division between western and eastern Christianity in 1054. As Rome was to past schisms, so Brussels is to this one.

Britain was always a brake on European federalism. Now the EU27 can unite in giving the UK a hard time. Brextremists see an economic 1940, with a global Britain striking out anew.

AR May the force be with EU in year 77 of the fight for FUK.

2017 April 1

Quantum Questions

Robbert Dijkgraaf

Quantum theory and modern mathematics complement each other to reveal symmetries in reality.

Classical mechanics may compute how a particle travels from A to B along a geodesic. Quantum mechanics considers all possible paths from A to B. The Feynman sum over histories assigns to each path a weight that determines the probability that a particle will go that way. The classical solution is simply the most likely one.

Calabi-Yau spaces are compactified 6D solutions of the Einstein equations of gravity. One can count the number of curves on a Calabi-Yau space using an integer, the degree, that measures how often the curves wrap around. Finding the number of curves of a given degree is hard even for the simplest Calabi-Yau space, the quintic. The number of degree 1 curves is 2,875. The number of degree 2 curves is 609,250. The number of degree 3 curves is larger.

String theorists defined a single function with a physical interpretation as a probability amplitude for a string propagating in the Calabi-Yau space that probes all possible curves of every possible degree at once. An equivalent formulation of the physics uses a mirror Calabi-Yau space with a different topology but the same string propagation. The difficult computation on the original manifold translates into a single integral on the mirror manifold.

Mirror symmetry illustrates duality. Two classical models can be equivalent when considered as quantum systems. Dualities point to deep symmetries of the underlying quantum theory. Mirror symmetry can connect symplectic geometry, which underlies much of mechanics, with algebraic geometry, the world of complex numbers.

Mathematicians bring new rigor to quantum theory as they work on homological mirror symmetry.

AR Hard stuff. My work is prior to all that.

End of a Union

Bugatti Chiron
Jürgen Zöllter/MID
Bugatti Chiron
1500 PS, 420 km/h,
W16-Ottomotor mit
8,0 Liter Hubraum,
Gewicht 2240 kg,
€2,4 Millionen
(ohne MwSt)

AR Deutsche Fahrkultur
sollte das VK schämen.

My sister Helen Ross
in Dorset yesterday



2017 March 31

America v China

Gideon Rachman

Graham Allison: "China and the United States are currently on a collision course for war ... If Hollywood were to make a movie pitting China against the United States, central casting could not find two better leading actors than Xi Jinping and Donald Trump."

Xi seeks to return China to its traditional role as the dominant regional power. The primary target of Chinese ambition is Japan. The current focus of territorial disputes between Japan and China is the set of islands known as the Senkakus to the Japanese and the Diaoyu to the Chinese.

Michael Green: "If there is one central theme in American strategic culture as it has applied to the Far East over time, it is that the United States will not tolerate any other power establishing exclusive hegemonic control over Asia and the Pacific."

The differing views of China and the United States on how to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat are likely to be aired in the summit next week in Florida. Both America and China would likely be involved in any war that broke out on the peninsula.


Markus Becker

Das Europaparlament stellt harte Forderungen:
Großbritannien soll seine Rechnungen bezahlen
und nach dem Brexit schlechter gestellt sein als zuvor.
Ansonsten werde man das Austrittsabkommen blockieren.


2017 March 30


Bettina Schulz

Nach 42 Jahren Mitgliedschaft verlässt Großbritannien die Europäische Union. Die Hoffnung Großbritanniens hat sich nie erfüllt, die EU als stetige Quelle lukrativer Deals zu nutzen. Daher ist die Abkehr von der EU folgerichtig.

Der Industrie und dem Handwerk fehlen die Facharbeiter. Anspruchsvolle Dienstleistungsjobs werden
hauptsächlich in London angeboten. Auf dem britischen Arbeitsmarkt sind zero hour contracts erlaubt, Scheinbeschäftigung von Selbstständigen und extrem kurze Kündigungszeiten. Reale Lohnsteigerungen gibt es seit Jahren nicht mehr.

Großbritannien soll der Handel mit dem ehemaligen Commonwealth alles wieder wettmachen. Dabei macht derzeit der Import Großbritanniens aus den fünf größten Commonwealth-Ländern zusammen nicht einmal soviel aus wie der Import aus Holland. Beim Export macht der britische Handel mit dem Commonwealth nur so viel aus wie die Ausfuhren nach Frankreich.


Stefanie Bolzen

Großbritannien hat den Weg für den Brexit beschritten. Noch gibt man sich zivilisiert. Bald wird man knallhart ringen. Heikle Fragen:

1 Das Geld

Satte 60 Milliarden Euro ist angeblich die Summe, die London vor dem Austritt zahlen soll. Premier Theresa May hat sich zuletzt konzilianter gegeben. Trotzdem birgt der erste Klotz auf der Brexit-Agenda Sprengstoff.

2 Die EU-Ausländer

Auf dem Verhandlungstisch liegt auch die Zukunft von mindestens vier Millionen EU-Bürgern dies- und jenseits des Ärmelkanals. Bietet London keine unbürokratischen Zusagen für die EU-Ausländer im Land, hinterlässt es gleich zu Beginn verbrannte Erde.

3 Sicherheit

Großbritannien ist Atommacht und Ständiges Mitglied im UN-Sicherheitsrat. Seine Geheimdienste gelten als die besten in Europa. Es gibt im Osten der EU Befürchtungen, London könne die an Russland grenzenden Länder erpressen wollen.

4 Rolle des EuGH

Die harten Brexiter wollen mit dem Tag des Austritts nichts mehr mit dem Europäischen Gerichtshof (EuGH) zu tun haben. Das EU-Parlament besteht darauf, dass der EuGH in einer Übergangsperiode weiterhin das Sagen hat.


Holger Steltzner

Die Briten wollten die wirtschaftlichen Vorteile des Binnenmarktes. Sie wollte den Euro nie und zog die eigene Landesgrenze dem Schengenraum vor. Die Vorstellung einer immer engeren Union der Völker Europas entsprach nicht dem britischen Selbstverständnis.

Nun treiben die Briten die politische Desintegration voran. Als Wirtschaftsmacht ist Großbritannien als nach Deutschland stärkstes Land für die EU unverzichtbar. Wirtschaftlich ist das Königreich für die Union so wichtig wie die zwanzig kleinsten Länder zusammen.

Für Deutschland ist Großbritannien der drittwichtigste Handelspartner, die Verflechtungen zwischen den Unternehmen sind eng. Gibt es kein Abkommen mit gegenseitigem Marktzutritt, wären gegenseitige Wertschöpfungsketten und Geschäftsmodelle bedroht.

Die Zeiten sind vorbei, in denen der erfolgreiche Binnenmarkt neue Mitglieder anzog, weil er Wachstum und Wohlstand schuf. Die EU hat ihn überreguliert und mit politischen Zielen überfrachtet. Deutschland könnte zum Hauptverlierer des Brexits werden.


2017 March 29


Martin Wolf

Today the British government notifies the EU of its intention to leave. This is a tragedy for the UK and a tragedy for Europe. It is an appalling way to celebrate the EU's 60th anniversary.

Even if the exit negotiations go well, the decision to leave the EU will have huge consequences for the UK. Economically, it will lose favorable access to by far its biggest market. Politically, it will create great stresses inside the UK and Ireland. Strategically, it will eject the UK from its role in EU councils. The UK will be poorer, more divided and less influential.

End of the Beginning

Markus Becker

Theresa May's letter giving notice of Brexit is a declaration of intent to embark on mission impossible. She must fight on five fronts:

1 Brussels

The EU has already demanded a payment of up to €60 billion for existing commitments. For the EU, this comes first. Then come thousands of legal texts.

2 Scotland

The Scottish Parliament voted yesterday to hold a new independence referendum when the terms of Brexit are clear. May: "Now is not the time."

3 Northern Ireland

The Northern Irish also voted to remain in the EU. Brexit could endanger the fragile peace between Protestants and Catholics. The open border between north and south would close if the UK left the customs union and the single market. A reunified Ireland could stay in the EU.

4 British Business

Brexit boom? The UK is still in the EU and benefits from the single market, especially given the devaluation of the pound following the referendum. May: "No deal is better than a bad deal." A reversion to WTO rules would be rock-hard.

5 British Domestic Politics

There is still an opposition in London. Parliament must agree the terms of a Brexit deal with the EU. Advocates of a hard Brexit are pressing May too — within two years or no deal.

2017 March 28

End Times in the Anglosphere

Roger Cohen

When Donald Trump met Angela Merkel earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He told Merkel that Germany owes the United States hundreds of billions of dollars for defending it through NATO. He showed no interest in the European Union.

The European Union has provided peace and stability to hundreds of millions of people for 60 years. In myriad ways it has improved life for Europeans whose forebears lived in a charnel house. Truculent Trump has abdicated responsibility — Europe must step into the void.

"Big announcement by Ford today. Major investment to be made in three Michigan plants. Car companies coming back to U.S. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!"

AR Fortunately, European civilization is deeper than its AA part.

2017 March 27

The End of History

Paul Sagar

Francis Fukuyama said the collapse of communism and the US victory in the cold war showed liberal capitalist democracy was the end of History. He recalled Georg Hegel, who said History is a process of resolving social contradictions via conflict to achieve higher integration, and Karl Marx, who predicted communism.

For Fukuyama, humanity developed in an upward arc from the Dark Ages to the Enlightenment, paving the way for democratic liberal capitalism. Modern science and technology, alongside market capitalism, explained our path to the top. Now History had ended — but critics see all this as no more plausible than Hegel or Marx.

Fukuyama noted the human need for recognition and respect, affirmed if necessary by force. People exhibit "megalothymia" — a desire not only to enjoy respect and recognition but also to dominate others in ostentatious and spectacular ways. If not channeled this can turn vicious, finding an outlet in domination and oppression.

Fukuyama said people who had lost greatness might lose patience with comforts that failed to feed megalothymia. He said their resentment would find a political outlet. He feared the emergence of demagogic strongmen promising mastery and domination. He cited an archetype of megalothymia: "a developer like Donald Trump."

2017 March 26

Testing Time

Anil Ananthaswamy

Special relativity has a symmetry called Lorentz invariance: The laws of physics are the same for any two observers moving at a constant speed relative to each other. So they observe each other's clocks running at different rates. Each observer feels stationary and see the other clock as ticking slowly — time dilation.

General relativity says clocks run differently if they experience different gravitational forces. Comparing atomic clocks aboard GPS satellites with those on Earth confirm the effect.

Most atomic clocks rely on the frequency of the microwaves emitted by electrons in caesium 133 atoms. New clocks using strontium atoms have at least three times the precision, barely gaining or losing a second over 15 billion years.

In a new test of time dilation, two optical fiber links, one between London and Paris and another between Paris and Braunschweig were used to compare strontium clocks in these locations. These clocks are moving at different velocities because of their position on the Earth. After one day, clocks in Paris and London should show a difference of 5 ns.

To compare them, the team synchronized lasers to the frequency of the radiation from each of the clocks, transmitted the laser beams over the fiber links, and superimposed the beams to detect any differences in frequency. They confirmed Lorentz invariance to less than 10 parts in a billion — the best result yet.

1 2 3 4 5
London, Saturday

60 Rome

Vor 90 Jahren gelang
Werner Heisenberg eine
revolutionäre Einsicht:


"Prayer is often just a jolly
good excuse to shut up
for a while and think."
Giles Fraser

Not Afraid
5 dead, 40 injured

Tobias Ellwood
Tobias Ellwood,
MP for Bournemouth East,
tried to save a stabbed
police officer.

Global Military Spending

United States $596 billion
Next 7 countries $567 billion
Rest of world $514 billion


"Oh, Donald. The ratings are in,
and you got swamped. Wow.
Now you're in the thirties?"
Arnold Schwarzenegger

"If this were TV, you'd be fired.
America, tell it like it is:
Donald, you're fired!"
Vicente Fox Quesada


Ministry of Defence
British troops deploy to Estonia

Chuck Berry

Erdogan Calls Merkel Nazi

Islamist Turkish president
Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses
Angela Merkel of using
Nazi methods.

AR That will boost her
reelection chances.

Merkel, Trump
Die Welt


2017 March 25

Cosmic Gold

Joshua Sokol

For 60 years, astrophysicists have thought supernova explosions make gold, along with dozens of other heavy elements on the bottom few rows of the periodic table. Now computer models of supernovas show this is unlikely. Perhaps colliding neutron stars forge heavy elements.

In 1957, physicists explained how exploding stars could make heavy elements. The Big Bang made hydrogen, helium, and lithium. Stars then cooked up progressively heavier elements up to iron.

To make nuclei bigger than iron, you can bombard iron nuclei with neutrons, which can be absorbed and decay into protons. Slow neutron capture, the s process, makes elements such as strontium, barium, and lead. Rapid neutron capture, the r process, beefs up nuclei to form heavy elements including uranium and gold.

A supernova occurs when a star collapses onto an iron core. Protons and electrons in the core are forced together, making neutrons. Textbooks say supernovas fuel the r process.

Supernovas make neutron stars. In a binary neutron star system, the stars lose energy and eventually collide. In the last few orbits, gravitational tides eject enormous amounts of material. Heavy nuclei form in about a second, but they are unstable. They decay to things like gold and platinum.

A supernova makes perhaps a Moon mass of gold. Neutron star mergers are rarer, but each one makes a Jupiter mass of gold. Think of r-process elements as chocolate. A universe enriched by supernovas would be like a cookie with an even glaze of chocolate. Neutron star mergers would form nuggets, as in chocolate chip cookies.

LIGO should soon be sensitive enough to detect neutron star mergers in distant galaxies.

AR See blog 2016-02-11/12, 2014-08-13.

Mathematics Prize


French mathematician Yves Meyer has won the 2017 Abel Prize for his pivotal role in the development of the mathematical theory of wavelets.

In signal processing, sound or image signals can be represented by specifying wavelet amplitudes in an orthonormal basis. Meyer developed a way to create wavelet bases and wavelet transforms tailored to a given application. Wavelet transforms are now used everywhere from JPEG compression to processing gravitational wave signals detected by LIGO.

Meyer: "You must dig deeply into your own self in order to do something as difficult as research in mathematics. You need to believe that you possess a treasure hidden in the depths of your mind, a treasure which has to be unveiled."

AR Good advice.

2017 March 24

Humans Have Bodies

Yuval Noah Harari

Mark Zuckerberg has published a manifesto on the need to build a global community. To implement his vision, he might have to jump headlong into a political minefield. But his willingness to formulate a political vision deserves praise.

Any effort to build a global community must go together with protecting and strengthening local ones. No nation, corporation, or global network can replace communities of people who know each other intimately. Without these groups, humans feel lonely and alienated.

Technology has been distancing us from our bodies. What people might really need are the tools to connect to their own experiences. In the name of sharing experiences, people let what they feel be determined by online reactions rather than by their own experience.

The current Facebook business model values time spent online over time spent offline. The best solutions for improving discourse may come from getting to know each other as whole people instead of just opinions. Humans have bodies.

AR My cut of the manifesto: blog February 21.

Islamist Terror

John Gray

The state has the primary function of providing security. By creating failed states, the West cleared zones of anarchy in which Daesh thrived. European governments are now adopting policies that will end mass migration into Europe.

Controlling the flows of people cannot neutralize Daesh militants who are already here. Some will have entered Europe years ago, or been born in a European country and then learned terrorist skills in war zones. A major terrorist threat can be created by very few people.

The European Union is weak in this regard because of freedom of movement. As a borderless zone, it can control the movement of people only at its perimeters. The result is an institution that cannot meet the primary and overriding need for safety that states exist to serve.

Daesh joins guerrilla warfare and spectacular acts of terror in its strategy. Daesh militants are possessed by faith. Their attacks are moves in a methodical strategy of savagery that serves an Islamist apocalyptic myth.

AR My new cut from a 2015 text.

The Terrorist

The Times

British citizen Khalid Masood, 52, born in the UK, was a Muslim convert, known to MI5, who had a range of previous convictions for assault, possession of offensive weapons, and public order offences, before committing the Westminster atrocity.

AR The UK is as infected as France or Germany. Brexit is no cure.

2017 March 23


The Times

World leaders condemned the attack on Westminster as they reacted with horror and sympathy.

French president François Hollande: "We are all concerned with terrorism. France, which has been struck so hard lately, knows what the British people are suffering today. It is clear that it is at the European level, and even beyond that, that we must organise ourselves."

German chancellor Angela Merkel: "Although the background to these acts is not yet clear, I reaffirm that Germany and its citizens stand firmly and resolutely alongside Britons in the struggle against all forms of terrorism."

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy: "Spain is with the British people. I condemn the attacks, solidarity with the victims."

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte: "Horrible images from London. The very heart of the city has been struck. Our thoughts are with the British people."

Europe at 60

Philip Stephens

British prime minister Theresa May will not attend celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

The Germans and the French have argued from the outset about the shape of Europe. For France, integration was about building a firebreak against the power of America. For Germany, Europe was a route to national reunification and from the demons of recent history.

Shortly before the Benelux nations came up with a blueprint for a European Economic Community, France had scuppered German plans for a European defense association. In the decades since the Rome treaty, German federalists have frequently collided with French nationalists.

The recent deluge of crises has drained confidence. A breakdown of the Brexit talks could destabilize the union.

Brexit Negotiations

Michel Barnier

The price of greatness is responsibility. When a country leaves the union, there is no punishment. There is no price to pay to leave, but we must settle the accounts.

We will tell the truth to our citizens about what Brexit means. We must do serious legal work with the United Kingdom on the long-term rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens living in the rest of the EU. But we can and we should agree, as soon as possible, on the principles of continuity, reciprocity, and non-discrimination so as not to leave these citizens in a situation of uncertainty.

I want to say this to our British partners. At the end of the day we both need a united Europe to reach a deal.

2017 March 22

His Wish Came True

Katy Waldman

Donald Trump has stumbled into an Aesop's fable of his own making. Having received what he so fervently wished for, he's now found that leading the free world is a miserable chore. As a candidate, he got to accuse the establishment of trashing the country. He played hype-man for a future in which he'd refresh our ideals. Now he's accountable in the present to all the men and women whose lives haven't become fairy tales since he took office. That's not fun. That's a full-time job, and that's the one thing Donald Trump has never wanted.

Trump No Care

Michael Tomasky

We have trouble believing what we see coming out of the Trump White House. Just a few weeks into this administration, it already seems clear that historians years from now will be asking how the Republicans could have let this happen. Trump is not fit to be president.

Republicans will support Trump, let him deport Muslims and crack down on undocumented Latinos, let him depart from party orthodoxy on trade, let him pursue risky policies with Vladimir Putin, turn a collective blind eye to the manifold ways in which he dishonors the office, as long as he signs legislation that rips up the liberal state. They just hope he doesn't start World War 3.

The American Health Care Act is an awkward hybrid of Obamacare and conservative talking points against Obamacare. It was immediately attacked by both Democrats and the most conservative Republicans. The GOP goal on Medicaid is simply to vastly reduce the amount of money the federal government sends to the states.

On Social Security, a plan was unveiled to eliminate a tax that high-income benefit recipients currently pay and would in turn cut benefits for most other recipients. Efforts to move on these fronts will require investments of political capital the Republican leaders no longer have.

On taxes, Trump wants to lower the corporate tax rate. Congressional Republicans will be for that but they will also want to push lower personal income tax rates. The trick will be to pass this off as revenue neutral. One recent GOP tax plan could add $2.4 trillion to the deficit over ten years.

If congressional Republicans find that Trump is no use in enabling them to undo all these liberal entitlements and slashing taxes again on the top 1%, the romance might be brief.

Republicans will hold ranks against political attacks against Trump. Over the years they have excused mountains of hypocrisy in their own leaders. It will be interesting to see how they defend a president who may owe his election in part to Russia.

Fortress UK

Financial Times

The EU Dublin rules dictate that asylum seekers must be processed in the first member state they enter. So the UK exports hundreds of asylum seekers to other EU member states if they have already been registered elsewhere.

The British Isles are rarely the first port of call for an asylum seeker, so the UK is a net beneficiary of the rules. But this cushy status quo might not last after Brexit. Other countries are already annoyed at British freeloading.

2017 March 21

The President Lies

David Leonhardt

US president Donald Trump has repeatedly accused Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones. FBI director James Comey says there is no information that supports the claim.

Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign was an attack on the United States. Yet now it has become the subject of an escalating series of lies by the president and the people who work for him. The big question now is what really happened and who can uncover the truth.

The Republican House members questioning Comey acted like Trump staff members, decrying leaks about Russia's attack rather than the attack itself.

Democrat Adam Schiff: "Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated, and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt US persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don't know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out."

2017 March 20

Global IT

Niall Ferguson

The IT revolution was largely a US achievement. Google and Facebook are expected to have a combined share of all digital advertising worldwide this year of 60%. Google is valued at $590 billion, Facebook about $400 billion. Google is essentially a vast global library, Amazon is a vast global bazaar, and Facebook is a vast global club.

Confronted with this revolution, the Europeans capitulated. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (Fang) have got their teeth into the EU. Yet British and German politicians want social networks to censor the web. As if these companies were not already mighty enough, European politicians want to give them more power.

China fought back. Baidu (the Chinese search engine), Alibaba (the Chinese answer to Amazon), and Tencent (the nearest thing in China to Facebook) give Big Brother the big data to keep close tabs on Chinese netizens. Good luck to the US National Security Agency as it tries to get through the Great Firewall of China.

AR Globorg is the child of the IT revolution — Long live Globorg!

Making America Safe Again

Timothy Stanley

President Trump is giving the war hawks the money they want. This does not mean he is endorsing their global strategy. Sealing the borders is supposed to reduce the risk of another 9/11.

The most serious threat is China, but its goals appear to be about reclaiming bordering territories it says are its own. Russia remains a military paper tiger, and its conventional capabilities are limited. The UK has shown that domestic terror threats can be beaten by infiltration, data gathering and shared intelligence, and that working sensitively with Islamic communities reaps benefits.

Trump wants to make America great again. He is demanding huge sums of money to rearm. His opponents must prevent Fortress USA from becoming a launchpad for new conflicts.

Anglo-German Defense Cooperation

Financial Times

Britain and Germany are set to sign a new defense cooperation deal after the UK launches Brexit. The UK defense ministry said it was working with Germany "on a joint vision statement on future cooperation" while the German defense ministry confirmed it was working on joint projects.

London and Berlin defend a common front in eastern Europe. Britain is leading a new NATO deployment in Estonia and Germany is leading one in Lithuania.

AR Glad to hear it.

2017 March 19

American Protectionism: The Price

Financial Times

G20 finance ministers meeting in Baden-Baden failed to promote free trade thanks to US opposition.

American Protection: The Bill

Donald Trump

Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!

American Protection: The Facts

Ivo Daalder

Sorry, Mr President, that's not how NATO works. The US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending NATO.

This is not a financial transaction, where NATO countries pay the US to defend them. It is part of our treaty commitment. All NATO countries, including Germany, have committed to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. Those who currently don't spend 2% of their GDP on defense are now increasing their defense budgets.

But no funds will be paid to the US. They are meant to increase NATO defense capabilities, given the growing Russian threat. Europe must spend more on defense, not as a favor (or payment) to the US but because their security requires it.

The US does provide a large military commitment to NATO. But this is not a favor to Europe. It is vital for our own security. We fought two world wars in Europe, and one cold war. Keeping Europe whole, free, and at peace, is a vital US interest.

A strong, united NATO, in which all contribute their fair share to defense, will secure that peace for all Alliance members.

AR The reign of POTUS 45 is an insult to the world.

2017 March 18

Trump and Merkel

The New York Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel and US president Donald Trump endured an awkward encounter — the great disrupter confronts the last defender of the liberal world order.

Worlds apart in style and policy, they made a show of working together, but they could not disguise the gulf that separates them on trade, immigration, and a host of other thorny issues.

Trump went further on the need for burden sharing in NATO, demanding not only that members increase their military spending as a percentage of GDP but also that they make reparations for past American contributions. He also said he believed that Germany, like China and other trading partners, had taken advantage of the United States.

Merkel drove home the point that trade with Germany benefits American workers by bringing a delegation of chief executives from BMW, Siemens, and other German companies with extensive American operations. Trump brought in his own contingent of chief executives from Dow Chemical, IBM, and and used the round table to promote apprenticeships.

Both said Germany and the United States must find a way.

AR If the way is for Germany to spend endless billions on arms that only ratchet up tensions on the Eastern Front, perhaps we need a rethink.


Mark Anderson

Sir Isaac Newton said the strength of gravity follows an inverse square law. Albert Einstein explained gravity in terms of massive objects curving spacetime. Mordehai Milgrom accounted for anomalous stellar motions in galaxies with his modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) — when field strength drops below a particular (nano-g) value, gravity follows a new law. But MOND is ad hoc.

Astronomers took a fresh look at more than 150 spiral galaxies and found their stars had anomalously high speeds farther out from the center. Stacy McGaugh found a tight correlation between galactic rotation speeds and their distribution of visible matter, suggesting a new law, not mere dark matter.

John Moffat has modified MOND so that gravitational field strength follows an inverse square law closer in, only to peter out at galactic distances, where gravity behaves as in MOND. He says he can account for the rotations of galaxies and the odd dynamics of the Bullet Cluster. He also predicts potentially testable effects near black holes.

Erik Verlinde suggests gravity emerges from entangled qubits. Physicists can already show that, but only for anti-de-Sitter space (AdS). The vacuum seems to contain dark energy that accelerates the expansion of spacetime. Verlinde says dark energy acts like an elastic medium, which matter deforms, boosting gravity at long range, as in MOND.

We still need an underlying theory. Lee Smolin seeks to derive the MOND predictions from first principles in quantum gravity. No one is done yet.

AR It seems feasible to me that a theory of quantum gravity will predict fields stronger than in Newton or Einstein gravity for weak fields where the Planck limit is not far down and dimensional instability looms. Given dark energy, even nano-g variations seem possible. Without a theory, who knows? See blog February 2.


Theresa May will separate two great unions, the UK and the EU. The EU is a union of 28 states with over 500 million people, modern
in its institutions and diverse in its appurtenances, and beloved by many of its members. The UK is a union of 4 states with some
64 million people, antique in its institutions and ancient in its traditions, and also beloved by many of its citizens.

The EU might not survive 2017, given ongoing debt and immigration crises, new Brexit and defense spending crises, and nationalists
in France and Germany. The UK might not survive Brexit, given the risk of a hard divorce with no trade deal, acrimony over alimony,
and separatists in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If England and Wales were left alone, the UK would be gone.

May will recall the first two years in office of her illustrious predecessor Winston Churchill, who led a Britain that against all odds
defied Nazi Europe and survived, albeit as a junior member of the victorious Allies. Perhaps she imagines the UK can achieve
something similar today with the help of the Anglosphere. I think this is a historic blunder.

Dutch Elections

Centrist prime minister
Mark Rutte convincingly
sees off threat from
Trumpist contender
Geert Wilders.

AR Relief

Protect and Survive
People Power: Fighting for Peace
Imperial War Museum, London
2017-03-23 — 2017-08-28

Solar art
Solar Protest Event
Republican National Convention
Cleveland, July 2016

Pi Day

The End Is Nigh

UK parliament clears path for
government to trigger Brexit

"British unionist anti-Europeans,
having chosen to relinquish the
UK's principal export market and
a say on the laws that govern it,
will now advise Scotland not to
relinquish its principal export
market and a say on the
laws that govern it."
Janan Ganesh


O'Neill cylinder
O'Neill cylinder

48 and beyond
England applies
to join

"A united Ireland is not only credible but inevitable."
Siobhan Fenton


The House of Lords blocks
the UK government again:
Peers vote for a "meaningful"
parliamentary vote on the
final terms of withdrawal.


2017 March 17

United Kingdom

Theresa May

Yesterday the EU Withdrawal Bill received royal assent. Within the next two weeks, we will begin the negotiations to secure the UK departure from the EU. We will forge a more global Britain, securing a new partnership with Europe and reaching out to old friends and new allies alike.

The SNP is trying to force the UK government to agree to something that is fundamentally unfair to the Scottish people. It wants to ask them to make a crucial decision without the necessary information. They would not know what the new partnership with the EU would look like.

AR A vote for Brexit is OK but a vote for Scottish independence is not?

United Ireland

Stephen Collins

Brexit puts Northern Ireland up for discussion given that a majority there voted to remain in the EU.

On a practical level there are two massive problems. One is the €10 billion a year subsidy from the British exchequer to Northern Ireland and how that is going to be replaced without wrecking the economy of the entire island. The other is that there would still be resistance and possibly violent resistance from a loyalist minority.

The only united Ireland worth having is one that comes about because the people of the North want it.

United Europe

RAND Europe

Brexit creates new challenges for UK and European security:

— EU defense spending and industry
— UK and EU research and innovation
— European defense integration
— Future agreements on international sanctions
— Scotland and the nuclear deterrent
— Northern Ireland and border security
— Continued UK-EU collaboration on security

2017 March 16

Beyond Earth

Charles Wohlforth

Recent space entrepreneurs have accomplished amazing technical feats. And China may put crews on the Moon within 20 years. But these achievements are not in the same league as visiting Mars, and landing to stay is even further off.

Space radiation and the health hazards of weightlessness put destinations other than the Moon out of reach with current technology. The risk to passengers is too high. We need much faster spacecraft and much more knowledge of space travel.

Even with a safe mode of travel, moving many people to another planet would cost an enormous amount, far more than the passengers themselves could afford. No one has identified a space resource that would compensate for that investment.

A mission to send a few astronauts to Mars for a brief visit could cost a trillion dollars. Scant opportunities for a self-sustaining space colony exist in our celestial neighborhood. No place in our solar system is as hospitable to life as Earth.

Some exoplanets circling another star could harbor pleasant human habitats. But they are so far away that getting there would take something like a Star Trek warp drive. Saving this planet will have to come before sending colonists into space.

AR Quite right. First priority: Head off WW3.

World War 3

Youssef El-Gingihy

Three fronts are emerging as the loci for WW3:

1 The Europe-Russia front triggered by the Ukrainian conflict

The Ukrainian crisis was preceded by two decades of NATO expansion up to the borders of Russia, with increasing deployments of troops by both NATO and Russia, dangerous confrontations, and massive war games.

2 The Mideast cauldron centered on Daesh and the Syrian war

US Mideast geopolitical strategy is directed against Iran extending its influence through Syria and Lebanon. The Syrian war has seen Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey arming and funding radical jihadist groups. Daesh is aiding the strategy.

3 The Asia-Pacific front with the United States versus China

America and China are on a dangerous collision course. Trump has threatened a trade war with China. A war economy with militarization, mobilization, full employment, and jingoism is a solution to economic woes and social unrest.

AR A solution? This pundit is too pessimistic.

2017 March 15

Solar Power

Bill Gates

The sun is the most reliable, plentiful source of energy we have. As solar panel costs continue to fall, they are becoming a growing source of clean energy around the world. But we need to find efficient ways to store the energy from sunlight to make it available on demand.

Batteries are one solution. Even better would be a solar fuel. Fuels have a much higher energy density than batteries, making them far easier to use for storage and transportation. One ton of gasoline stores the same amount of energy as 60 tons of batteries.

Making solar fuel would solve the energy storage problem for solar energy. And it would provide a power source for our existing transportation infrastructure. We could continue to drive the cars we have now. They would be powered by fuel made from sunlight.

At Caltech, Nate Lewis and his team have reason to be optimistic. Green plants combine sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to store solar energy in chemical bonds. Nate's team is working with the same ingredients. They need to figure out how to do it better.

A group of investors and I recently launched Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund that will invest more than $1 billion in scientific discoveries that have the potential to deliver cheap and reliable clean energy to the world. Nate's team is looking good.

Hard Brexit

The Guardian

House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: Hard Brexit would be "a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK."

Theresa May: "One of the driving forces behind the union's creation was the remorseless logic that greater economic strength and security come from being united."

AR She was talking about the UK but the same logic applies to the EU.

2017 Pi Day

Minding Matter

Adam Frank

The interpretation of quantum physics remains as up for grabs as ever. When calculations are done with the Schrödinger equation, the wave function gives you only probabilities at the root level of reality. The act of making a measurement is said to collapse the wave function.

There are multiple interpretations of the the measurement problem. The Copenhagen interpretation says it highlights a barrier between epistemology and ontology by making explicit the role of the observer. In the multiverse interpretation, measurements make the universe split off into many parallel versions. Quantum Bayesianism takes the probabilities in quantum mechanics at face value to include the observing subject.

Putting the perceiving subject back into physics undermines the whole materialist perspective. Rather than trying to explain the mystery of mind by appeal to the mechanisms of matter, we must grapple with the intertwined nature of the two. We can move forward by acknowledging the multiple interpretations of quantum mechanics.

AR I am currently writing a paper proposing a new perspective on quantum theory.

String Theory and Loop Theory

Jon Cartwright

Quantum theory and general relativity are fundamentally incompatible. String theory and loop quantum gravity are two distinct attempts to reconcile them. They might turn out to be equivalent.

String theory says matter and energy are made of vibrating strings. Their vibration patterns appear as different particles. Among their oscillation modes is something that looks like a graviton. Strings vibrate in 11 dimensions and the theory predicts supersymmetry, but we have so far seen no supersymmetric partners.

Loop quantum gravity says spacetime comes in tiny loops, which evolve into a spinfoam. But spinfoams are too rigid to allow warped spacetime.

Years ago, Gerard 't Hooft and Leonard Susskind proposed that our 3D world could be a projection of information on its 2D boundary. Juan Maldacena conjectured an AdS/CFT duality that builds on their proposal. The holographic principle has matured into a major research area in string theory.

A calculation of holographic gravity done in the context of string theory can also be done using loop quantum gravity, with the same result. String and loop theorists now think of the holographic boundary as being anywhere in space. The part-loop, part-string physics that emerges can appear on the finest scales at a random slice through spacetime.

String theory and loop quantum gravity look different in the bulk, but they may cast the same shadow at the boundary. A reconciliation could reveal a deeper view.

AR My paper suggests a new way to build a quantum theory of spacetime.

2017 March 13

Europe Fights Back

Financial Times

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to the Dutch ban on a Turkish election rally in the Netherlands with anger, calling the Netherlands a "banana republic" and saying it would "pay the price" for its actions — "Nazism is alive in the west."

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte described the comments as bizarre and completely unacceptable. The diplomatic spat comes just days before the Dutch general election. Rutte has taken a tough stance to fend off a challenge from Geert Wilders.

Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen canceled a meeting with his Turkish counterpart: "With the current Turkish attacks on Holland the meeting cannot be seen separated from that."

Austria, Switzerland, and Germany have also canceled Turkish campaign events in recent days.

AR Europe is reacting correctly to a serious threat. It would be folly to make a habit of letting politicians from Islamic countries hold election rallies in European countries which only incite Islamic immigrants to back political movements that have no place in Europe.

European Civil Rights

The Times

Sir, We write to urge MPs to support the House of Lords amendment guaranteeing the right of EU citizens who live in Britain to remain here after Brexit. Oxford University relies on EU citizens as lecturers, researchers and support staff. If they lost their right to work here, our university would suffer enormous damage which, given our role in research, would have reverberations across the UK.

Our EU colleagues are not reassured by a government which tells them that deportation is not going to happen but declines to convert that assurance into law; some are worried, some are already making plans to leave. Many of our staff do not know whether absences abroad on research contracts will count against them. Others do not know, however longstanding their work and residence, whether their children will be able to remain in the UK.

These are real and immediate concerns. There is no public or parliamentary intent to harm our EU colleagues: that can be translated into reassurance by accepting the Lords amendment. We ask MPs to vote accordingly and join us in pressing for reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals in the EU.

Signed: Oxford University vice-chancellor Louise Richardson and the heads of 35 Oxford colleges

AR I would have signed it too.

2017 March 12


The Guardian

Mathematics becomes beautiful through the power and elegance of its arguments and formulas, through the bridges it builds between previously unconnected worlds, when it surprises. For those who learn the language, maths has the same capacity for beauty as art, music, or stars on a dark night.

Paul Dirac: "It is more important to have beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment. It seems that if one is working from the point of view of getting beauty in one's equations, and if one has really a sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress."

Michael Atiyah: "Truth and beauty are closely related but not the same. You are never sure that you have the truth. All you are doing is striving towards better and better truths and the light that guides you is beauty. Beauty is the torch you hold up and follow in the belief that it will lead you to truth in the end."

Space Colonies

The Independent

British Interplanetary Society members are looking at how humans could start living in space in large numbers. Jerry Stone says we are now close to the point where such colonies could be built using material from the Moon and asteroids.

The space colonists would initially build and maintain solar panels that would be used to provide power on Earth. Other industries might later move into space to take advantage of the microgravity and cheap solar power.

Colonists could live on the inside surfaces of vast hollow cylinders, which would rotate to provide gravity. Gerard O'Neill once suggested the cylinders could be 4 miles in diameter and 20 miles long, to hold up to 10 million people.

AR We could sail to the stars in such cylinders.

2017 March 11

German Nukes

Rudolph Herzog

Germans are debating whether Germany should acquire nuclear weapons.

During the Cold War, US military strategists stationed vast numbers of nukes in Western Europe. In 1956, the US Strategic Air Command kept 91 nuclear bombs for East Berlin alone. The Soviet side amassed similar nuclear firepower.

Germany was home to the Pershing II, which could hit Moscow in 15 minutes. Neither side had time to think through an evolving situation rationally. The only certainty was that Germany would be Ground Zero for nuclear war.

During the Cold War, most of the borderlands between West and East Germany were sown with nuclear mines. If the Red Army attacked, NATO would turn the country into an apocalyptic mass of rubble to halt the advance of the Soviets.

Germany must stick to its hard-learned principles as a peaceful nation.

AR Britain and France must dedicate their nuclear forces to defending Europe.

Sailing Aliens

Ben Guarino

In 2007, an astrophysicist detected a fast radio burst (FRB) in archival data from a telescope in Australia. The burst lasted less than 5 ms and was extragalactic in origin. The power behind it was over 10^35 W. Astrophysicists have detected only 25 other FRBs since then.

The unknown source of FRBs prompted intense speculation. Some scientists say they come from massive neutron stars or maybe vanishing black holes. The latest idea is sailing aliens.

Avi Loeb and Manasvi Lingam say FRBs could be traced back to aliens who cruise through space on the wings of light sail technology. FRBs could be artificial beams for driving light sails. Alien traffic controllers would keep the beam aimed at the sail and distant observers would see only a flash as the beam pivoted across the universe.

Solar sailing has been a science-fiction concept for decades. Arthur C. Clarke described it in 1964. In 2018, the NASA NEA Scout will use a reflective sail to travel toward a lump of space rock.

Loeb and Lingam calculate that an FRB transmitter would beam sunlight at an area roughly twice the diameter of Earth. A solar sail big enough to catch these rays could propel a million-ton starship.

AR On FRBs see blog 2017-01-05, 2016-03-03, 2016-01-22, 2016-01-15.

2017 March 10

Nuclear War

Foreign Policy

Pyongyang is developing an offensive doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons in the early stages of a conflict. Last year, North Korea fired a No-dong missile to a point at sea at the same range as the SK port city of Busan. This time, NK launched four extended-range Scud missiles to a point at sea at the same range as the US Marine Corps Air Station near Iwakuni, Japan.

The United States and South Korea are currently holding the military exercise Foal Eagle. This latest annual joint exercise lasts two months and involves tens of thousands of US and SK military personnel, as well as an aircraft carrier, bombers, and F-35 aircraft based out of Iwakuni. Foal Eagle rehearses war plan OPLAN 5015 for a pre-emptive strike against NK.

Pyongyang plans to use nuclear weapons against US forces throughout Japan and SK to blunt an invasion. NK strategy depends on using nuclear weapons before the US can destroy them. NK ICBMs are intended to deter Donald Trump after Kim Jong Un obliterates Seoul and Tokyo. Both Kim and Trump will face enormous pressure to hit first or be beaten to the punch.

2017 March 9


Wang Yi

North Korea has ignored international opposition and insisted on advancing its nuclear and missile programs in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

The United States and the Republic of Korea are conducting military exercises on an enormous scale and putting more military pressure on North Korea.

The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way. Are they really ready for a head-on collision?


Martin Wolf

Later this month, Theresa May will repudiate UK membership of the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty.

These are going to be difficult negotiations, with a high chance of a calamitous outcome, with poisonous results.

The UK needs to achieve the best possible deal on trade. But the UK has a weak hand. The UK does far more of its trade with the rest of the EU than the rest of the EU does with the UK.

Sir John Major: "The most successful results are obtained when talks are conducted with goodwill: it is much easier to reach agreement with a friend than a quarrelsome neighbour. But, behind the diplomatic civilities, the atmosphere is already sour."

The government should not quibble over the terms of the divorce. The EU intends to ask for €60 billion, roughly 3% of UK GDP. Over a decade, 0.3% of GDP annually is petty cash. The future UK relationship with the EU is worth more than that.

2017 March 8

The Next War

William D. Hartung

President Trump loves generals. He has assembled the most military foreign policy team in memory, if not in American history. Everything is likely to be viewed through a military lens.

Trump also relies on a small circle of White House advisers led by Steve Bannon. In a best case scenario, the generals wrest control of presidential attention from Bannon and his minions when it comes to foreign policy decision making — assuming the generals have a saner perspective than an ideological Islamophobe.

The true test may come if Trump and Bannon push for military action against Iran. Another Mideast war is unlikely to be any more successful than the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts.

Donald Trump

Mark Danner

This is what it is to live in the realm of the Big Man. His drama perforce is ours — relentless political struggle, permanent revolution, shattering of norms, scandal and controversy, the capital deep in broken crockery.

President Trump is determined to change the office. We can be grateful that his need for continual disruption, constant outrage, maintaining an iron grip on the news cycle, and sheer winning without ever retreating means he has a grand proclivity for stepping on his own dick.

Crisis is the vital springboard of his presidency. The lower his poll numbers, the more outlandish his lies, the greater the resistance from opponents, the thicker his scandals and chaos, and the likelier he will be to seek to use a crisis to lever himself to a position of dominating power.

A terrorist attack on American soil would put Trump in a perfect position to act aggressively and comprehensively. His political drama will have been elevated from a battle against elites and the status quo to a heroic struggle for the survival of the nation.

Marine Le Pen

Robert Zaretsky

FN presidential candidate Marine Le Pen: "It's time we finished with the European Union."

The French Nouvelle Droite have left their imprint on the FN. These thinkers propose to bind Europe together by the irrefutable and irresistible claims of race and ethnicity.

FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen says France must work with Russia "to save boreal [northern] Europe and the white world" from the threats of immigration and globalization.

Marine Le Pen shares with her father an apocalyptic and racialist vision of global conflict.

Adolf Hitler

Richard J. Evans

Hitler was appointed as Reich chancellor in 1933. He had won mass support following an economic crisis. Whereas other politicians looked like mere administrators, he would put Germany first.

Hitler got the armed forces on his side by giving them massive increases in funding and a huge new armaments program. The Nazis reorganized education and culture to instill German patriotism.

Hitler was a media figure who gained popularity and controlled his country through speeches and publicity. He was temperamental, volatile, insecure, allergic to criticism, and often indecisive.

TSC 2017

"Those of us who appreciate
the power of science have
viewed science deniers as an
important annoyance ... but
now it's almost fashionable.
That's shocking."
Dan Dennett

NK missiles
Rodong Sinmun
NK to US: Please nuke me!

Trump on USS Gerald Ford
Washington Post
Titanic Trump

"Bad (or sick) guy!"

AR A tweet too far

Blackball Britain

A House of Lords report says
the UK could walk away from
the EU in 2019 without paying
a penny of the estimated
€60 billion Brexit bill.

AR Correct EU response:
economic blockade

Future of Europe
PDF: 32 pages, 5.8 MB

Boston Dynamics
Handle (1:36)
"Handle leverages our
team's experience with
the quadruped and
biped robots."
Marc Raibert


2017 March 7


Thomas Nagel

Daniel Dennett assumes we are physical objects and any appearance to the contrary must be accounted for in a way that is consistent with this truth.

Dennett says most of what we and our fellow organisms do to stay alive, cope with the world and one another, and reproduce is not understood by us or them. It is competence without comprehension.

He says that the manifest image of each species is a user illusion designed by evolution to fit the needs of its users. The underlying reality is accurately represented only by the scientific image.

Our user illusions are the products of bottom-up design, understandable through evolution by natural selection, a mindless process of accidental variation, replication, and differential survival.

Alan Turing saw how a machine could do arithmetic perfectly without knowing what it was doing. This competence does not depend on comprehension. Dennett says all the brilliance and comprehension in the world arises ultimately out of uncomprehending competences compounded over time.

Much of cultural evolution is as uncomprehending as biological evolution. All our capacities for understanding, all the values, perceptions, and thoughts that present us with the manifest image and allow us to form the scientific image, have their real existence as systems of representation in the central nervous system.

Our manifest image of the world and ourselves includes as a prominent part not only the physical body and central nervous system but the consciousness of ourselves and others. Dennett holds that consciousness is not part of reality in the way the brain is. Rather, it is a user illusion.

You may well ask how consciousness can be an illusion, since every illusion is itself a conscious experience. It seems the reality of my own consciousness is the one thing I cannot be deluded about. Dennett denies the authority of the first-person perspective with regard to consciousness.

According to Dennett, the representations that underlie human behavior are found in neural structures of which we know very little. The same is true of the similar conception we have of our own minds. That conception does not capture an inner reality.

Dennett concludes that we are not immediately aware of real subjective experiences because the reality of such phenomena is incompatible with scientific materialism.

We Are Not Just Animals

Roger Scruton

We distinguish people from the rest of nature. Human beings live in mutual accountability — on this fact is built the edifice of rights and duties.

Morality is like a field of flowers beneath which the corpses are piled in a thousand layers. It is an evolved mechanism whereby the human organism proceeds through life sustained on every side by bonds of mutual interest.

We human beings relate to one another not as objects but as subjects, as creatures who address one another as I to you — as Martin Buber said in his meditation I and Thou.

We understand ourselves in the first person. By speaking in the first person we can participate in dialogues founded on the assurance that, when you and I both speak sincerely, we are speaking our minds.

Philosophy has the task of describing the world in which we live — not the world as science describes it — in which we meet one another I to I.

2017 March 6

NK Deterrent


North Korea fired four ballistic missiles toward Japan early today. Military authorities in South Korea, Japan, and the United States say the four projectiles traveled almost 1,000 km toward the Sea of Japan. Prime minister Shinzo Abe said three landed inside Japan's exclusive economic zone. The firing is a response to joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

AR Let the historic mission of Donald Trump be to take down the NK regime before a tweetstorm flushes him away.

UK Deterrent

Wolfgang Münchau

My most dreaded chore this year will be to fill out an 85-page UK government application form that will give me, I hope, permanent residence in the UK after Brexit. The amendment to the Brexit bill voted by the House of Lords last week in support of a unilateral guarantee to EU nationals is a symbolic goodwill gesture, for which we will be eternally grateful.

AR Inexplicably, the UK has declared a kind of war against Europe. Voters fed a diet of mendacious propaganda decided by a narrow majority in a botched referendum to instruct their leaders to do this scurrilous deed, and no one more eminent than two former prime ministers has emerged to seek to stem the rush toward the abyss. This is a historic tragedy.

2017 March 5

Against Populism

Tony Blair

Politics is being reshaped in the United States and in Europe. At stake in the forthcoming elections in France and Germany will be the future of Europe.

The new populists are intent on blowing up traditional conservative politics. They believe that traditional culture is at risk from immigration and political correctness. Traditional conservatives are unsure whether to play along or to fight back.

Change is occurring both economically and culturally. Jobs are displaced and communities fractured as the force of globalization blurs old boundaries of nation, race and culture. The politicians of the center have become the managers of the status quo in an era when people want change.

For the progressive wing of politics, the correct strategy is build a new coalition out from the center. The center needs a new policy agenda. At its heart has to be an alliance between those driving the technological revolution and those responsible for public policy in government.

Any new agenda has to focus on these opportunities for radical change in the way that government and services like health care serve people. This must include how we prepare our work forces for the future, reform tax and welfare systems, and rebuild infrastructure and invest in communities.

Progressives must make the case for staying in a reformed European Union.

AR Technoglobalism (blog February 21)

Theresa May

Anne Perkins

Theresa May is the stealth prime minister. Her course through Brexit is still unknown. The only coherent alternative to her strategy of putting immigration controls ahead of prosperity and walking out of the single market is to deny that the referendum settled the matter.

May has placed the value of identity and community ahead of the needs of the economy. In the face of every grim economic forecast, she has remained unflinchingly true to tighter border controls. Her traditional emphasis on community over commerce is more closely aligned to ordinary voters than to any theoretical construct.

When May was growing up, her father was always on call for his parishioners. Her ambition was to be the first woman prime minister. She went up to Oxford to read geography, met Philip at a student Conservative Association disco, and married him in 1980.

In 2016, at the age of 59, May became prime minister. She had been home secretary since 2010. She has been prime minister for an extraordinary six months.

AR Traditionalism (blog February 12)

2017 March 4

Friendship with Russia

Simon Jenkins

US president Donald Trump says he likes Russian president Vladimir Putin and wants to get on with him. Those who feel the western approach to Russia since 1990 has been provocative and counterproductive might cheer at all this. We could stop fatuous sanctions, establish red lines around areas of aggression, and find areas of agreement and cooperation.

Trump is naive and lacking in executive competence. If he really intends a seismic shift in western policy toward Russia, the more we know about the backstory the better. Congress has set up a hue and cry, and tends to work thoroughly, so Trump would be well advised to come clean.

A rapprochement between America and Russia is a truly worthwhile objective. Its capacity to relieve tension, release resources, combat poverty, and save lives is colossal. A few lies and stumbles along the way would be a price worth paying.

AR We should cut Trump some slack on Russia.

Future of Europe

Ashley Fox

The European Commission white paper Future of Europe offers reflections and scenarios for the EU27 by 2025. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has decided to hand responsibility for what happens next to the member states.

The five options to be debated over the coming months range from stripping the EU back to the single market on through to a scenario under which Brussels would speak for Europe on foreign policy and trade and raise its own taxes. In between are the choices of doing nothing and ignoring the crises that threaten to engulf the EU, creating a multi-speed Europe in which member states choose how far to participate in common policies, and doing less more efficiently.

The EU27 member states must decide their own future. British Conservative MEPs will work alongside colleagues in the European Parliament to push for solutions they believe will leave the Union best placed to meet the challenges of the future.

AR Remain in the EU and shape the debate.

2017 March 3


Financial Times

NATO cannot deter Russia alone and must formulate a grand strategy for security in Europe with the EU, says NATO Deputy SACEUR Sir Adrian Bradshaw:

"It's the responsibility of NATO ... not only to be the architect and executor of military strategy, but to understand clearly how military strategy is integrated with the other arms of national power ... We need to move in the direction of the ability to formulate in the old-fashioned terms, grand strategy ... I think it has quite serious implications regarding the relationship between NATO and the EU."

He says NATO has made effective changes since 2014 including rapid response war games involving tens of thousands of troops in eastern Europe. But conventional military tools are insufficient — the west needs to develop hybrid deterrence.

2017 March 2

The US-UK Special Relationship

Anthony R. Wells

AR Dr Wells spoke at a seminar in Exeter College Oxford. Our discussion was animated and fruitful. He is the only living person to have worked for British intelligence and served in the Royal Navy as a British citizen and to have worked for US intelligence and the US Navy as a US citizen.

2017 March 1

Congress Speech

Donald Trump

What we are witnessing today is the Renewal of the American Spirit. America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.

America must put its own citizens first. We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders. Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values. We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America.

As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy Daesh — a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs American taxpayers many billions of dollars a year. Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits.

America has spent approximately $6 trillion in the Mideast, all this while our infrastructure at home is crumbling. With this $6 trillion we could have rebuilt our country. To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States.

Education is the civil rights issue of our time. I am calling upon Members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth.

To keep America Safe we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war and — if they must — to fight and to win. I am sending the Congress a budget that calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.

We strongly support NATO. But our partners must meet their financial obligations. We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Mideast, or the Pacific, to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost.

My job is to represent the United States of America. We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict. We want peace, wherever peace can be found.

When we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began.

AR Much better!


US Navy
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77)

President Trump will propose raising military spending by $54 billion — a nearly 10% increase
— and reducing spending by the same amount across much of the rest of the government.
Trump: "We have to start winning wars again."

Hidden Figures
Fox Movies

Brilliant movie for
all NASA fans

Last night's episode of SS-GB
distinguished the Wehrmacht
and the aristocratic Junckers
from Himmler and his racist
SS, so the plot is saved and
the nightmare can be
savored — AR

Oxford Today
Resistance is futile

Martin Schulz
Martin Schulz
SPD Kanzlerkandidat

Folklore book
Our book in Polish
(blog 2016-10-26)

UK by-elections:
Con win, Lab hold

Con 44%
Lab 37%
Lib Dem 7%

Stoke Central
Lab 37%
UKIP 25%
Con 24%

Oxford PPE graduates
have quite a lock on
British politics

British Road

"The country does not know
where it is going. We are on
this bus heading for Heathrow
— mendacious slogans on the
side — and we have no idea
what the destination is."
Lord Kerr

TRAPPIST-1 and its planets
(artist's conception)

The Prophet of

My review of
two books by
Yuval Harari

H.R. McMaster
US Army
Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster

Mark Zuckerberg
Presidência do México
Mark Zuckerberg


2017 February 28


John Major

I have watched with growing concern as the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic. Obstacles are brushed aside as of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery.

Behind the diplomatic civilities, the atmosphere is already sour. A little more charm, and a lot less cheap rhetoric, would do much to protect the UK's interests.

There is a choice to be made, a price to be paid. We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support. It would make all previous rows over social policy seem a minor distraction.

I caution everyone to be wary of this kind of populism. It seems to be a mixture of bigotry, prejudice and intolerance. It scapegoats minorities. Here in the UK we should give it short shrift.

Outside the European Union, we become far more dependent upon the United States and upon a president less predictable, less reliable, and less attuned to our free-market and socially liberal instincts than any of his predecessors.

Freedom of speech is absolute in our country. It's not arrogant or brazen or elitist, or remotely delusional to express concern about our future after Brexit. Nor, by doing so, is this group undermining the will of the people; they are the people.

2017 February 27

The Reichstag Warning

Timothy Snyder

On February 27, 1933 the Reichstag parliament building burned, Adolf Hitler rejoiced, and the Nazi era began. A week later, the Nazi party, having claimed that the fire was the beginning of a major terror campaign by the Left, won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections.

The American Founding Fathers knew that the democracy they were creating was vulnerable to an aspiring tyrant who might seize upon some dramatic event as grounds for the suspension of US rights. The Reichstag fire created the occasion for a leader to eliminate all opposition.

Donald Trump once wrote that "civil liberties end when an attack on our safety begins" and now speaks unfavorably of democracy. After the next terrorist attack — or what seems to be a terrorist attack — US citizens must hold the Trump administration responsible for their security.

AR 84 years ago today.

2017 February 26

Why I am a Muslim

Reza Aslan

As a scholar of religions, I am often asked how I can still call myself a Muslim.

Religion and faith are not the same thing. Faith is mysterious and ineffable. It is an emotional, not necessarily a rational, experience. Religion is a fairly recent human invention.

Faith is a choice. You either believe there is something beyond the physical world (as I do), or you don't. You either believe you are more than the sum of your material parts (as I do), or you don't. You either believe in the existence of a soul (as I do), or you don't.

Religion is the language we use to express faith. It is a language made up of symbols and metaphors that allows people to express to each other (and to themselves) what is, almost by definition, inexpressible.

As the Sufi mystics say, religion is a "signpost to God."

A parable by the great Sufi master Jalal ad-Din Rumi:
A Persian, a Turk, an Arab and a Greek are traveling to a distant land when they begin arguing over how to spend the single coin they share in common. The Persian wants to spend the coin on angur; the Turk, on uzum; the Arab, on inab; and the Greek, on stafil.
A linguist passing by overhears the argument. "Give the coin to me," he says. Taking the coin, the linguist goes to a nearby shop and buys the travelers four small bunches of grapes.
"This is my angur!" cries the Persian.
"But this is what I call uzum," replies the Turk.
"You have brought me my inab," the Arab says.
"No! This in my language is stafil," says the Greek.
The travelers realize that they were all asking for the same thing, but in different languages.

Having drunk from many wells in my spiritual journey, I say, no matter the well, the water tastes just as sweet.

AR Sounds good to me.

2017 February 25

Human Evolution

Yuval Noah Harari

Evolution through intelligent design is already beginning to make inroads against evolution through natural selection, and will ultimately take its place.

Science might replace natural selection with intelligent design, and might even start creating non-organic life forms. People are already merging with their smartphones and their Facebook accounts. These are intelligent machines that constantly study us, adapt to our unique personality, and shape our worldview and our innermost desires. In the coming decades, we are likely to proceed much faster along this path.

In 2050, our smartphones will likely be embedded in our bodies via biometric sensors, monitoring our heart rates, blood pressure and brain activity 24 hours a day and analyzing this data to get to know our bodies better than we know them ourselves.

By 2100, humans and machines might merge so completely that humans will not survive if they are disconnected from the network. We are learning how to use AI and biotechnology to design animals and to upgrade humans into superhumans.

All our major problems are global in nature. To solve them, we need global cooperation. The current wave of nationalism is a kind of escapism. I hope people will wake up in time — but never under-estimate human stupidity.

AR This presages the Globorg mind merge of my Coral organism.

German Rearmament

Konstantin von Hammerstein

German foreign minister and former SPD head Sigmar Gabriel is using the battle over increased defense spending as a symbol of resistance against US president Trump.

A recent report paints a dark picture of the Bundeswehr. A tank battalion chosen as spearhead of the NATO Response Force had to borrow 15,000 pieces of equipment from 56 other army units. An artillery training battalion was supposed to have 24 Panzerhaubitzer but in fact it had just 7, all reserved for NATO, and had done no training for years. There is an endless list of such examples.

From the end of the Cold War to 2011, the Bundeswehr shrank from more than half a million soldiers to just 205,000. The number of Leopard 2 battle tanks in service fell from 2,000 to 225. Additional cuts announced in 2010 were a step too far. There is now a huge need for new equipment.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen says that in future defense needs, not budgets, will again determine spending — so 2% of GDP might not be enough.

Brexit: Blair Right

Anatole Kaletsky

Tony Blair calls for voters to think again about leaving the EU. His voice is loud enough to carry above the cabal of flatterers around Theresa May who consider his call an insurrection.

The Brexit referendum subverted British democracy in two ways. First, the leave vote was inspired mainly by resentments unconnected with Europe. Second, the government has exploited this confusion of issues to claim a mandate to do anything it wants.

May now claims the referendum as a mandate for controversial Conservative policies as necessary conditions for a successful Brexit. This has become a matter of national survival. Even proposals for a vote to guarantee rights for EU citizens already living in Britain are painted as treason.

The new priority should be to restart a rational debate about Britain's relationship with Europe. This means challenging the idea that a referendum permanently outweighs all other mechanisms of democratic politics. Voters should be allowed to change their minds.

Amendments to the Brexit legislation now passing through parliament should prevent any new relationship between Britain and the EU from taking effect unless approved by a parliamentary vote that allows for the possibility of continuing EU membership.

AR May may not like it, but I agree.

2017 February 24

Top of the Pack


President Donald Trump: "I am the first one that would like to see ... nobody have nukes, but we're never going to fall behind any country even if it's a friendly country, we're never going to fall behind on nuclear power. It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack."

The United States is in the midst of a $1 trillion, 30-year modernization of its aging triad of nuclear weapon systems. Trump is pressing NATO allies to pay more for their own defense: "They owe a lot of money."

The New START treaty between the United States and Russia requires that by February 5, 2018, both countries must limit their arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons to equal levels for 10 years. They may each have no more than 800 deployed and non-deployed land-based intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear weapons, with equal limits too on other nuclear weapons. Trump calls it "a one-sided deal."

Trump says China could solve the national security challenge posed by North Korea "very easily if they want to" — China opposes North Korean nuclear and missile programs and wants a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. He will push a missile defense system for US allies Japan and South Korea.

On the European Union: "I'm totally in favor of it. I think it's wonderful. If they're happy, I'm in favor of it."

World Economic League


World trade is likely to grow more slowly. New technologies are likely to reduce cross-border trade.

China overtakes the US to become #1 in 2029. Although President Trump will impact China and boost the US economy, China continues to grow much faster than the US.

India overtakes the UK and France in 2018, Germany in 2021 and Japan in 2024 to become #3. Later this century the Indian economy will be #1.

Korea overtakes the UK and France to become #7 by 2030. The sterling fall following the Brexit vote has pushed the UK down from #5 to #6, below France.

World Economic Growth


In 2014, world GDP was €59 trillion. G20 members accounted for 85%, EU28 for 24%, US for 22%, China for 13.4%.

From 2004 to 2014, China and India had the highest GDP growth and the Chinese share of world GDP trebled.

British Roads

The Times

The UK road network is ranked 27th in the world, behind all our main competitors. British drivers pay the world's highest rates of tax on diesel and the fifth highest on petrol, amounting to £33 billion each year, yet British roads are the most congested in western Europe.

Roads account for 89% of travel distance in the UK. Rail investment is almost nine times that of road investment per mile, but road upgrades deliver economic benefits that are 50% higher. The government is now investing £23 billion to improve the roads.

AR Not enough — double it, now, and maybe the roads will become fit for purpose before I get too old to drive.

2017 February 23

Nearby Star Has Seven Earthlike Planets

New Scientist

A nearby star has seven temperate Earth-size planets near each other. TRAPPIST-1, a small, dim star some 40 light years away, was observed by the Spitzer Space Telescope for weeks to find the planets.

The planets b-h are all larger than Mars and less than 20% bigger than Earth, and probably range from 0.4 to 1.4 times Earth mass. All orbit close to the star and take just days to circle it. Earlier studies suggested planets b-d were close enough to lose their water to space, but the same models show planets e-g could still host primordial oceans.

The retinue of planets is arranged like the large moons of Jupiter, and their gravitational dance has nudged them into harmonies. For every 8 times planet b circles the star, planet c orbits 5 times, planet d orbits 3 times, and planet e orbits twice.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, a team has looked for puffy atmospheres around the planets, and the James Webb Space Telescope may be able to analyze their atmospheric chemistry in 2019.

Seven temperate terrestrial planets around TRAPPIST-1

Recently, three Earth-sized planets were detected that transit a star with a mass 8% that of the Sun, located 12 parsecs away. Photometric monitoring reveals that at least seven planets with sizes and masses similar to those of Earth revolve around TRAPPIST-1. The six inner planets form a near-resonant chain and the seven planets have equilibrium temperatures low enough to make possible the presence of liquid water on their surfaces.

Water loss from terrestrial planets orbiting ultracool dwarfs

Ultracool dwarfs settle on the main sequence after about 1 Gyr. For brown dwarfs, this cooling never stops. Their habitable zones (HZ) thus sweep inward and their planets experience a runaway greenhouse phase too hot for liquid water prior to entering the HZ. The planets around the utracool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 may have retained some water in the HZ. Depending on their initial water contents, they could have enough water to remain habitable.

Strong XUV irradiation of the exoplanets orbiting TRAPPIST-1

TRAPPIST-1 is an ultracool dwarf star hosting transiting and temperate Earth-sized planets. We find its XUV irradiation of the planets to be many times stronger than experienced by Earth today. We show that the relatively close-in Earth-sized planets are subjected to sufficient XUV irradiation to significantly alter their atmospheres. Understanding whether this irradiation makes the planets more or less habitable is a complex question.

2017 February 22

Habitable Planets Found

NASA Announces Major Space Discovery
NASA TV, 1 pm ET


Yuval Harari

Dataism is a new ethical system that says humans were special and important because up until now they were the most sophisticated data processing system in the universe, but this is no longer the case. An external algorithm that understands you better than you understand them yourself is the switch from amplifying humans to making them redundant.

People will be willing to give up privacy in exchange for medical services that tell you the first day cancer cells start spreading in your body. In a few years the hundreds of millions of people who have no health care will have access to AI doctors on their mobile phones offering better care than anyone gets now. Driverless cars will drastically reduce accidents.

Humanity has proven its ability to rise to the challenge posed by dangerous new technologies. After thousands of years in which war seemed to be an inevitable part of human nature, we changed how international politics functioned. I hope we can also rise to the challenge of technologies like AI and genetic engineering.

US National Security

The New York Times

New US national security adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster is a widely respected military strategist known for challenging conventional thinking and helping to turn around the Iraq war.

McMaster, 54, is a West Point graduate. He commanded a unit that helped win one of the biggest tank battles of the Gulf war, earning him the Silver Star. Then he earned a doctorate in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In 1997 he published a searing critique of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their performance during the Vietnam war in his book Dereliction of Duty.

In 2005 he led the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in regaining control of Tal Afar. The operation was cited as a textbook example in a manual on counterinsurgency doctrine prepared by General David Petraeus.

McMaster: "I look forward to joining the national security team and doing everything that I can to advance and protect the interests of the American people."

Senator John McCain: "I could not imagine a better, more capable national security team than the one we have right now."

Caliphate in Decline


Daesh has often been described as the richest terrorist organization in the world. Estimated revenues based on open source information about Daesh in its core territory in Syria and Iraq show that its revenue comes from taxes and fees; oil; and looting, confiscations, and fines.

Since 2014, Daesh annual revenue its down by over 50% to at most $870 million in 2016. Daesh has now lost most of its conquered territory in Iraq and much of that in Syria. But it can still carry out terrorist attacks outside its territory and wider efforts are still needed to defeat it.

2017 February 21

Building Global Community

Mark Zuckerberg

Our greatest opportunities are now global. Progress requires humanity coming together as a global community. Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community.

Building a global community that works for everyone starts with millions of smaller communities and intimate social structures. Our goal is to strengthen existing communities by helping us come together online. A healthy society needs these communities to support our personal, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Problems like terrorism, natural disasters, disease, refugee crises, and climate change need coordinated responses. For some of these problems, the Facebook community is in a unique position to help. Artificial intelligence can help us understand more quickly and accurately what is happening across our community.

We need ways to share new ideas and common understanding to work together. Social media provide more diverse viewpoints than traditional media. By increasing the diversity of our ideas and strengthening our common understanding, our community can have the greatest positive impact on the world.

Our society will reflect our collective values only if we engage in the civic process. The starting point for civic engagement is to support voting across the world. As we look ahead to building the social infrastructure for a global community, we will work on building new tools that encourage thoughtful civic engagement.

Facebook is a community of people. We need community standards that reflect our collective values for what should and should not be allowed. The community standards should reflect the cultural norms of our community. The approach combines a democratic process to determine standards with AI to help enforce them.

This is an important time in the development of our global community. I hope we take the long view and build the new social infrastructure to create the world we want for generations to come.

AR A bit long in the original, but practically a Globorg manifesto!

Pak Green Eagles
Pak Green Eagles
Islamic Republic of Pakistan nuclear missile

SS-GB got it wrong in the first
few seconds as a late-war Spit
in D-Day stripes landed on
the Mall in 1941.

Otherwise the evocation of
mood was superb. But the plot
is doomed to descend into a
tired tale of plucky Brits
versus evil Krauts.

Jürgen Habermas:
A living German

Kersti Kaljulaid
Estlands Präsidentin
Kersti Kaljulaid
"Wir dürfen gegenüber
Putin niemals wanken"

"It's all fake news"

AR I watched some of his
press conference yesterday.
It was insufferable,

American Association
for the Advancement
of Science

US SoD James Mattis
James Mattis says America
could moderate its NATO
commitment if member
states fail to meet
the 2% target

"I condemn the launch of a
ballistic missile by the DPRK"
Jens Stoltenberg

AR Penrose expounded his
twistor ideas in his book
The Road to Reality.

In 2004 I was impressed
and wrote a long review
(chapter 12, Mindworlds).
Here is my shorter cut:
JCS 12(2), 78-83 (2005)

I want to study twistors
again once I've buffed
up my math skills.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier
wird neuer Bundespräsident.
Er nennt Deutschland "Anker
der Hoffnung" in der Welt.

AR Deutschland vertritt
Vernunft und Mäßigung.



Daesh in Pakistan

William Dalrymple

Last week, a Daesh supporter struck a crowd of Sufi dancers celebrating in the great Pakistani shrine of Sehwan Sharif, killing almost 90. The attack demonstrated the reach of Daesh in Pakistan.

The wild and ecstatic night-long celebrations marking the Sufi saint's anniversary were almost everything Islamic puritans most disapprove of: loud music and love poetry, men dancing with women, hashish being smoked, Hindus and Christians welcome to join in.

Saudi oil wealth has been used to spread intolerant beliefs across the globe. Many Muslims have been taught a form of Islam from which Sufism is excluded. Hardline Wahhabi and Salafi fundamentalism advanced in Pakistan when the Saudis financed madrasas following the collapse of state education.

Sufism was an antidote to fundamentalist radicalism. One old fakir in the Sehwan shrine said of the Wahhabi mullahs: "Without love, they distort the true meaning of the teaching of the prophet."

AR Our new crusade will need to deal with Pakistan.

2017 February 20

UK-EU Divorce

Financial Times

EU Brexit negotiators expect to spend until Christmas on the divorce. This stalls trade talks until the €60 billion exit bill and expatriate citizen rights are resolved.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier favors a narrow divorce-first approach. UK Brexit secretary David Davis wants all elements of Brexit to be handled in parallel.

The Barnier plan anticipates deals on principles around money and citizen rights in time for EU-27 leaders to okay trade talks at their December summit.

German Rearmament

Thorsten Jungholt

There are good reasons to question the 2% target. It measures only expenditure, not efficiency. And it narrows the concept of security to the military when in fact we need to link diplomatic, developmental, and military efforts.

Germans should have said all this before accepting the target. Now Berlin will have to pay out and try to get value for money. German armed forces — both personnel and equipment — are indeed in a lamentable state.

Sweden Calm Friday

Louise Nordström

The Swedish government demands that the White House clarifies what US President Donald Trump meant while speaking at a Florida rally on Saturday during which he referred to what appeared to be a serious incident "last night in Sweden" — nothing spectacular happened in Sweden on Friday.

Enemy of the People

David Remnick

French revolutionary Robespierre: "The revolutionary government ... owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death."

For Lenin and Stalin, enemies of the people included clergy, intellectuals, monarchists, Trotskyists, rootless cosmopolitans, and prosperous farmers. To be branded an enemy of the people was to face a knock on the door in the middle of the night, a prison cell, the Gulag, an icy ditch ...

Donald Trump may not hear every historical echo in his "enemy of the American People" tweet. But the attacks on the legitimacy of the courts, on the intentions of the intelligence agencies, and on the patriotism of the press have become too repulsive to be discounted as mere sideshow.

AR Demagogue Trump is becoming an enemy of the people.

2017 February 19

Fake Prez?

Fake News!

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
POTUS Donald Trump

"We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital ... if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started."
Senator John McCain

2017 February 18

Munich Security Conference

MSC 2017

"The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to our transatlantic alliance ... We will stand by Europe today and every day."
VPOTUS Mike Pence

NATO Spending

Konstantin von Hammerstein, Peter Müller

US secretary of defense James Mattis: "I owe it to you to give clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country's people in concrete terms. America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this Alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense."

Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, with a big budget surplus in 2016. Berlin wants to take on more responsibility for global security. The Pentagon sees Germany as the most important country in Europe, and the pressure from Washington is only going to grow in intensity.

Politicians in Berlin are aware that their neighbors fear a militarily powerful Germany. That helps explain why German military spending in real terms ranks only third in Europe, behind the UK and France. Were Germany to spend 2% of GDP on defense, its annual defense budget would rise from its current level of €37 billion to over €60 billion. That would make Germany by far the largest military power on the continent.

AR Peace is best served by ensuring that European defense spending has a more integrated character. A race of nations to the 2% line would only exacerbate international tensions.


The Times

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "I do not like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military. If you look at what Europe is doing in defense, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the US looks rather different."

German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel: "We in Europe will have to take on more responsibility but security policy should not be reduced to the size of defense budgets. If we do that we will not be able to fight climate change, or water shortages, or poverty, or the crises that lead to violent conflicts."

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen: "Our American friends know well that their tone on Europe and NATO has a direct influence on the cohesion of our continent. A stable European Union is just as much in the American interest as a united NATO."

Tony Blair: "The British people voted to leave Europe, and I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to rethink. But the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit."

AR With Brexit the UK is endangering the stability of the EU and hence weakening NATO too, so UK defense spending must be discounted accordingly. The German commitment to reducing the refugee problem counts for quite a few pro mille points of GDP. Do the math!

Trump — Nixon

Elizabeth Drew

Alarming events surrounding the presidency of Donald Trump remind me of Watergate.

The events around Richard Nixon in 1973 and 1974 ended in a president having to leave office before the end of his term. Nixon used the instruments of government against his opponents, whom he defined as enemies. Watergate was a constitutional crisis.

Donald Trump is becoming more and more obsessed with leaks. Nixon hired burglars to stop leaks that enraged him. Nixon and Trump both assumed government workers were out to get them. As Nixon did, Trump views the press with hostility. Nixon refused to obey a court ruling, and Trump attacks the integrity of a federal judge who ruled against his order.

Trump might quit — or his presidency might meet an ending not of his choosing.

AR My thoughts exactly.

2017 February 17

Unfit to Serve

E.J. Dionne Jr.

The man serving as POTUS 45 plainly has no business being POTUS.
Questions about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia will not go away.
It is only a matter of time — Americans need to face the truth.

American Autocracy

Jakob Augstein

It looks as if Donald Trump is not up to the job.

US intelligence service employees apparently gave the press incriminating material against Trump and his team. But anyone who sees the leaks as proof of the checks and balances of the US Constitution should think again. Trump seems to want an American autocracy, and the services are fighting back with autocratic methods.

America has become an unstable state.


Philip Stephens

Donald Trump imagined he could do as he pleased in the White House. The opening weeks of his presidency have been disastrous.

His hopes of a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin have dissolved. Firing Michael Flynn for lying to Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in Washington will not put things right. What did the president know and when?

The smiles in Moscow are turning to scowls. Putin hoped for a deal that would see the US president lift sanctions and acquiesce in Russian revanchism in return for notional cooperation in fighting Daesh. Such an agreement now looks impossible.

Consider the alt-facts. Flynn said that in three weeks the president had restored "America's leadership position" in the world.

Concerns About Science


Researchers are concerned at unprecedented levels about how a new presidential administration may undermine scientific work and delay its benefits.

AAAS CEO Rush Holt: "It used to be when someone would say they were concerned about the state of science, they were talking about funding for research ... What I hear now are concerns about what I would call an ongoing trend that goes back many years, even decades, where ideology and ideological assertions have been crowding out evidence in public and private debates and policymaking. It's reaching a place where people are truly troubled about what this means for the practice of science and the ability of science to bring its benefits to the population at large."

AAAS President Barbara Schaal: "This is not so that we can have our research grants, this is for the well-being of our nations and our global citizenry. The things that stimulate well-being, that give us a better life — adequate food, excellent health care, jobs — many of those things have basic science as an underpinning ... our concern is that the government won't have the scientific expertise that it will need to make the kind of standard policies that are going to be coming through Congress and by executive order."

2017 February 16

European Defense

Anne Applebaum

Donald Trump wrote in 2000 about defending Europe: "Their conflicts are not worth American lives."

The American political commitment to European security is waning rapidly. Britain, France, Germany and others should launch a new European security pact that reflects political reality.

Europe is at a major political turning point. A new organization could involve major new armaments, shared between countries. European countries can only gain from cooperating in cyber security and in procurement and operations.

NATO is poorly designed to confront terrorism and chaos in the south and hybrid warfare from Russia. A new European security pact is needed. Britain can take the lead.

Bootstrap Physics

Gabriel Popkin

Boiling water is an example of a phase transition. Hot water molecules jostle about vigorously and the fastest ones escape as steam. If you raise the pressure, you reach a critical point where it is hard to tell liquid and gas apart. The critical point is another phase transition.

Critical points are common. Ernst Ising imagined a magnetic material as made up tiny atomic magnets that can align N-S or S-N. Each tends to line up with its neighbors but can also flip randomly. The higher the temperature, the more likely a flip. But Ising could only build a 1D model.

Lars Onsager solved the 2D Ising model to show how a magnetic material above a critical temperature loses its magnetism. The 2D Ising model can simulate other phenomena that flip between states.

Alexander Polyakov saw that strongly coupled systems of fundamental particles could undergo phase transitions. For example, quarks are usually bound in nucleons by the strong nuclear force but at high energies they can reach a critical point and break free.

The 2D Ising model and the equations for elementary particles at their critical points share conformal symmetry. If the same were true of the 3D Ising model, its mathematical description might describe any strongly coupled system with the same symmetries.

Polyakov worked backwards to the equations. The more symmetries he had, the more he constrained the underlying equations. His technique is now known as the bootstrap method.

Several physicists are using the method to constrain the 3D Ising model more tightly and build a rigorous mathematical foundation. The Simons Foundation awarded them $10 million for the work.

AR Conformal symmetries are big for Penrose (The Road to Reality, §8.2, §27.12)

2017 February 15

The War for Civilization

Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump's ban on migrants and refugees from seven mainly Muslim countries may be just the beginning of repeated efforts in the US and Europe to restrict migration from the Muslim world.

White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said at a Vatican seminar in 2014 that Judeo-Christian civilization is at the "beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism" — this is key to his role in the Trump administration.

In France, Marine Le Pen believes the West is engaged in a mortal struggle with radical Islam: "Washington, Paris and Moscow must form a strategic alliance against Islamic fundamentalism."

In the Netherlands, the Freedom party led by Geert Wilders is set to top the polls in next month's elections. In Germany, the AfD party is likely to become the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag since 1945.

Further jihadist attacks in the US and Europe will feed this fear and hostility. Demographic trends create pressure for migration from Muslim countries. The polemic is a foretaste of the future.



The Military Balance 2017 calculates that only two NATO member states met the 2% defense spending target in 2016. Greece spent 2.4%, Estonia 2.2%, and the UK only 1.98%.

The 2% target is now a political constraint for government leaders. The UK had committed in its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to clear the 2% bar. In the United States, the 2% figure became a symbol when Donald Trump hinted that US support could require NATO states to meet it.

There is no shared definition of defense budgets. NATO includes pensions, spending on peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, and research and development costs. The UN uses another definition. The UK reported £36.9 billion to the UN but £39.8 billion to NATO in 2013.

There is also no agreed source for calculating GDP share. The IISS collects GDP figures from the IMF World Economic Outlook database in US dollar terms. Different GDP figures will change the results, and whether or not states hit the 2% target depends on the sources and definitions.

European NATO member states increased real defense spending from US $255.7 billion in 2015 to US $256.5 billion in 2016, a 0.3% rise. Their overall GDP growth was 1.8%.

AR NATO says UK clears 2% bar.

2017 February 14

The Way of Love

Mustafa Akyol

Arnold Toynbee compared the crisis of Islam with that of the Jews two millennia ago. The Jews were a proud people defeated by a foreign empire. This ordeal bred two groups: Herodians (collaborators with Rome) and Zealots (militants against Rome).

Toynbee said modern Muslims have their own Herodians (such as Turkish founder Ataturk) and Zealots (like the Arabian Wahhabis). He predicted defeat for the Zealots. He forgot the third Jewish way, that of Jesus.

Muslims are going through a crisis very similar to the one Jesus addressed. The Muslim world has lost its early tolerance and suffocated in dogmatism. Jesus found a way out of a fixation on the letter of the law by looking instead at its purpose.

We Muslims can learn from Jesus.

Roger Penrose

Philip Ball

British mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose represents a generation who launched themselves into the universe armed only with their wits and imagination.

At Cambridge, Penrose studied algebraic geometry. While an undergraduate, he heard Fred Hoyle lecture on cosmology. Hoyle believed in a steady state universe and coined the term Big Bang in derision. Penrose: "I drew little pictures and convinced myself that what he said couldn't be true."

While a graduate student, Penrose saw an exhibition of art by M.C. Escher: "I was quite blown over. I came away and drew pictures of bridges and roads, which gradually simplified into the tribar."

Dennis Sciama prompted Penrose to a lecture by David Finkelstein, who was working on general relativity, black holes, and singularities. Penrose was hooked. In 1959 he travelled to Princeton to work with John Wheeler, who invented the term black hole.

Penrose showed that black holes could be real. Stephen Hawking saw the work and the pair began collaborating on gravitational singularities. But the concept of a singularity conflicts with quantum mechanics.

Penrose began in physics with quantum mechanics. A fundamental property of quantum particles is spin, but quantum spin seems to need objects to be spinning in twisted space. Their motion can be described using spinors.

Penrose developed a theory that adds a new twist to spinors. His twistors reveal deep connections between quantum theory and the shapes of spacetime. Penrose thinks twistors might lead to a theory of quantum gravity reconciling quantum theory and general relativity.

Penrose is 85. His ideas are still guided by an uninhibited spirit of inquiry.

2017 February 13


Daniel Dennett

Philosophy has not covered itself in glory. Sometimes, views can have terrifying consequences that might actually come true. I think what the postmodernists did was evil. They are responsible for the intellectual fad that made it respectable to be cynical about truth and facts.

Political activism is not my favourite activity but sometimes one has to engage in it. I begrudge every hour that I have to spend worrying about political issues. Every Republican senator has an opportunity to grow a spine and stand up for truth and justice and the rule of law.

The view of things getting better is the view of those who survive. The fact that we now understand more about how evolution works exposes the fragility of some features of our modern world. We now have to take care not to run off the cliff with our new technology.

No sooner do we develop the hardware to give the globe a nervous system than we spoil it. One danger of AI tools is that we become too dependent on them and give them more authority than they warrant. Technological oracles give very accurate results that we have no other way of getting. We get black box science.

Philosophers talk about the limits of comprehension. The only way we can make progress is by division of labor and specialization. Papers come out of CERN with 500 authors, not one of whom understands the whole paper or the whole science behind it. This is going to become more and more the meme. More and more, the unit of comprehension is going to be group comprehension.

2017 Darwin Day


Philip Ball

Life emerges naturally through the laws of physics and information theory. Information is physical and randomness is entropy. A demon using knowledge and intent to defy the laws of thermodynamics pays a penalty because it cannot have unlimited memory. When it clears its memory and erases information, it dissipates energy and increases entropy.

Living organisms have collectively been avoiding equilibrium since the origin of life. They harvest energy from their surroundings to capture and store information. Their genes are instructions for reaping negative entropy. An organism and its environment share information that helps the organism stay out of equilibrium.

Life is a computation that aims to optimize the storage and use of meaningful information. A lower limit on the energy used in computation is set by the cost of forgetting. The efficiency of the total computation done by a living cell is only a few times more than the thermodynamic limit.

Complex systems can absorb and dissipate energy in a fluctuating environment. As they do so, they generate entropy and tend to settle into well adapted and highly organized states. To use energy efficiently they can become prediction machines. Storing information with no predictive value has a cost, so they selectively harvest meaningful information.

Nonequilibrium systems maximize entropy. A system can maximize entropy over a time window into the future by comparing paths and taking the path of most entropy, with most options later. This drive to preserve freedom of future action creates outcomes that suggest intelligence.

AR This is the bright side.


SS-GB — Buckingham Palace, 1941
BBC One, 19 February, 9-10 pm, Ep 1/5

AR Nostalgia with a twist of "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet"





UK ranks 24th out
of 28 EU states
for renewable


Marine Le Pen will
pull France out
of € if she


2017 February 12


Jason Horowitz

White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon referred to the Italian philosopher Julius Evola in a Vatican speech in 2014.

Baron Giulio Cesare Andrea "Julius" Evola, who died in 1974, wrote on everything from Eastern religions to sex to alchemy. But he is best known as a leading proponent of Traditionalism.

Evola became a darling of Italian Fascists, and later Italian terrorists called themselves Children of the Sun after his vision of a Solar Civilization. He also inspired the Greek party Golden Dawn and the Hungarian party Jobbik.

Evola caught on in the United States with alt-right leaders, including US white supremacist Richard Spencer, who in the days after the presidential election led a crowd in chants of "Hail Trump!"

Born in 1898, Evola was a talented artist, who after fighting in World War I became a leading Dadaist. This gave way to a love for German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Evola's 1934 book The Revolt Against the Modern World cast materialism as eroding ancient values and saw the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and humanism all as historical disasters that took man further away from the perennial truth.

Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini really liked Evola's 1941 book on racial doctrine. Evola eventually broke with the Italian Fascists because he considered them too tame. He preferred the Nazi SS as closer to his mythic ideal.

In his Vatican talk, Bannon also discussed Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is influenced by Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian Traditionalist who advocates Eurasianism to defend Europeans from democracy, liberty, and materialism.

Bannon on Evola: "We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what he's talking about as far as Traditionalism goes."

2017 February 11


Francis Su

When I think of human flourishing, I think of virtue. If you have a playful mind or a playful spirit, or you seek truth, or pursue beauty, or fight for justice, or love another human being, these are activities that line up with certain virtues.

If I learn mathematics and become a better thinker, I develop perseverance and hopefulness. Some people experience transcendent wonder at seeing something true about the universe, which is a source of joy and flourishing.

When we talk about teaching mathematics, sometimes we forget these larger virtues we are seeking to cultivate in our students. We are really training habits of mind, and those habits of mind allow people to flourish no matter what profession they go into.

Connect with people in a deep way and you will draw more people into mathematics. Being a mathematician lets us see things more for what they are. Having a mathematical background helps people to be less governed by their biases.

Many of the people at research universities would never consider taking students from an undergraduate college. They miss a lot of talent.

US — China

People's Daily

US President Donald Trump had a long phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi said adhering to the one-China principle is the political cornerstone of China-US relations. Trump now understands the importance of US adherence to the one-China policy, and his administration will honor it.

The two leaders also agreed to cooperate in trade, investment, and international affairs.

AR Thank you, Xi.

Quantum Entanglement

Natalie Wolchover

When two quantum particles interact they can become entangled, with a single probability function describing both particles together. If two entangled photons are polarized in perpendicular directions, there is some probability that photon A is vertically polarized and photon B is horizontally polarized, and some chance of the opposite. However far apart they are, measure photon A to be vertically polarized and you know photon B is horizontally polarized.

In 1964, John Bell showed that if particles have definite states even when no one is looking (realism) and if no signal travels faster than light (locality), then there is an upper limit to the amount of correlation between the measured states of two particles. Experiments show that entangled particles are more correlated than the Bell limit, favoring quantum theory.

In a Bell test, entangled photons A and B fly apart to remote optical modulators that either block or pass photons, depending on the polarization angles. Bell assumed that the modulator settings are independent of the states of the photons. But if the modulators were not independent, this reduced freedom could explain apparent entanglement.

Bell test measuring devices have two possible settings (say 1 or 0), so two bits specify their settings when they are independent. In 2010, Michael Hall showed that if only one bit does so once in every 22 runs, this halves the number of possible measurement settings available in the 22 runs. This reduced freedom lets measurement outcomes exceed the Bell limit.

In a cosmic Bell test experiment, a team of researchers sent pairs of photons a long distance into optical modulators and tallied coincident detections. They attempted to maximize freedom by viewing a bright (but otherwise random) star, and, before each measurement, using the color of an incoming photon from the star to set the angle of a modulator. The photon colors were decided long ago, when they left their stars.

The team found that the measurement outcomes still exceeded the Bell limit. Nature would have had to restrict the possible measurement settings at least 600 years before the measurements occurred. Next, the team plans to use light from distant quasars to push further back in time, but most scientists bet on entanglement.

AR I do too. In my view, measurement that breaks entanglement reflects popping out of spacetime in a mindworld jump. This is an epistemic leap forward to reflect an ontic pop. The epistemo-ontic dialectic of successive temporal popouts has a model in axiomatic set theory.

2017 February 10

Brexit Deckchairs, Trump Titanic

Joseph O'Neill

While Leavers and Remainers argue with Lilliputian ferocity about hypothetical trading scenarios and legislative technicalities and putative deals, the UK faces its gravest national security threat since the second world war.

President Trump wants to bring about a Russian-American axis that would enfeeble NATO, destroy the European Union, and dominate a continent reduced to national fragments. He has instantly turned the US into a rogue state.

His impulsive actions as president add up to an agenda of unhinged belligerence and international lawlessness. He has shrunk the executive branch of government into a private dictatorial clique. He has excluded from his decision making process all the officials who would ordinarily be consulted. He has ridiculed countless respectable citizens.

Trumpism is a lethal, highly infectious political disease. Fight it or succumb to it.

The Brexit referendum took place in a world that no longer exists. Everybody assumed that the UK could negotiate its new trade and security arrangements in a geopolitically stable world. Everybody assumed the presence of a sane and friendly US president.

The new Brexit white paper cites the National Security Risk Assessment of 2015: "Our democratic and inclusive values are the foundation of our security and prosperity. We will continue to uphold these values against those who are intent on undermining them."

To get the US trade deal that the UK needs, Theresa May will be forced to align Britain geopolitically with Trump. She will have to let Trumpism become the foundation of UK security.

If the UK rushes ahead with article 50 notification next month, it will face a choice: either side with Europe in opposition to the Trump-Putin axis but get no US trade deal or make that trade deal but become a Trumpist American client state.

Europe must stand together against Trump. Brexit is deckchairs and Trump is Titanic.

AR My cooler shrink-wrap of a bravura source text. Audacious metaphor!

Generation Zero

Thomas Frank

In 2010, Steve Bannon made the documentary movie Generation Zero. From the text on the DVD case: "The current economic crisis is not a failure of capitalism, but a failure of culture."

Bannon says the culture wars and the financial crisis both share the same villain: the bad values that supposedly infected the 60s. That decade apparently introduced Americans to irresponsibility and self-indulgence. Blame is offloaded from Wall Street to the hippies.

Generation Zero is profoundly irresponsible. Once upon a time, there was a dreadful decade, then four decades later a terrible financial crisis, and the one somehow caused the other. Voiceover: "In history, there are four turnings. The crisis. The high. The awakening. The unravelling. History repeats itself. The untold story about the financial meltdown."

The theory is ridiculous. But it is a way to get casino capitalism out of the shadow for the financial crisis and blame instead the forces the family values crowd has been complaining about for years. Generation Zero connects the dots by means of a vast looping diagram of fantastic confusion.

AR My view too (February 5).

2017 February 9

Alternative for Germany

Frauke Petry

Patriotism is based on having a healthy attitude toward your own country and your own history. My parents taught us to be critical. And being a scientist makes you very critical because you have to analyze everything.

German governments in the past have proven that the relationship to Israel is very important. Israel has already experienced what Europe is starting to experience now in terms of illegal migration and terrorism. Germany and Israel have a special relationship.

We separate religion from the state in Europe. Islam has not accepted that yet. In the Mideast, you even see a rollback to a more conservative model of society where religion dominates public life. And that is something we seriously criticize, because we see many of the migrants and asylum seekers coming to Germany importing this model of society to Germany.

It is too easy to compare what happened to Jews in Germany with our present criticism of Islam. Muslims who have lived in Germany for a long time and accept that their own religion has problems belong to Germany. Without forgetting what happened to the Jews, we are concerned about Muslims coming from Africa or the Mideast, who do not even want to integrate or assimilate.

Someone asked thousands of Muslim immigrants to Europe for their views on whether Sharia law or national legislation dominated how they behave toward ethnic and religious minorities. Most of them said that Sharia was more important to them than national legislation. They also revealed very little tolerance for the Jews. They arrive with attitudes that are so alien to our common behavior and European attitudes that we have to say there is a problem.

In many ways Islam is stuck in the Middle Ages. Medieval views do not fit in a democratic context. Many Jews in Israel are faced with this problem in everyday life. They need not fear AfD. I understand the sensitivity in the Jewish community on these questions.

Hot Chips on Venus

Sebastian Anthony

Venus has a surface temperature of 750 K and an atmospheric pressure of 9 MPa — and boiling sulfuric acid rain. This is hard on normal digital computers. But electronics based on silicon carbide (SiC) can take it. NASA crafted a chip and ran it in a test rig at 1.26 MHz for almost 2 Ms:

"With further technology maturation, such SiC IC electronics could drastically improve Venus lander designs and mission concepts, fundamentally enabling long-duration enhanced missions to the surface of Venus."

AR I still fancy living in a sunlit city floating above the Venusian clouds (blog 2014-12-23).

Brexit Bill


The House of Commons has approved the EU (now) bill and passed it to the Lords for further debate. If all goes to plan, Theresa May will be able to pull the trigger in March.

AR Then bang — game over.

2017 February 8

US v Rising Reds

Robert Kagan

The ambition and activism of Russia and China are rising as the confidence and capacity of the United States declines. As they cross, we will see the existing order collapse and the world descend into a phase of brutal anarchy. The cost of that descent will be staggering.

The greatest check on Chinese and Russian ambitions has been the military and economic power of the United States and its allies. For decades, this global dominance has discouraged any serious challenge. Chinese and Russian leaders feared that aggressive moves would backfire.

In recent years, the democratic order has weakened and fractured at its core. Difficult economic conditions, the recrudescence of nationalism and tribalism, weak and uncertain political leadership, and new media have together produced a crisis of confidence in the liberal project.

Whether the United States is willing to continue upholding the strategic order has been in doubt for some time. American patience with the difficulties and costs of playing that global role have worn thin. The weakness and withdrawal encourage a bolder stance by the dissatisfied powers.

Rising powers produce the insecurity they claim to want to redress. The United States cannot and should not prevent China from being an economic powerhouse, nor should it wish for the collapse of Russia. As for military and strategic competition, security comes first.

AR My guess — US will squander its strength against Iran.

UK v Five Facts

Martin Wolf

HM Government white paper: "Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that."

The UK parliament has always been sovereign. Its ability to trigger Brexit proves it. Yet, driven by the presumed will of the people, HMG plans to leave the single market and the customs union.

Five challenges:

1 Article 50 states that the EU treaties shall cease to apply two years after the notification. The European Council can extend this period but the chances are slim. Businesses will need clarity well before the end, so UK leverage will rapidly dwindle.

2 No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The UK team is negotiating with the European Commission, 27 member states, and the European Parliament. They feel no urgent need to reach an agreement.

3 The European Commission wants to start with the terms of the divorce before starting talks on a future framework and a transition. The UK team says nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Disagreement can halt progress.

4 The commission calculates that Britain owes €60 billion. This demand could prove to be the decisive stumbling block.

5 The divorce will cover outstanding commitments, civil rights and housekeeping issues, complex trading arrangements, and perhaps sectoral customs unions and "enhanced equivalence" for finance. The complexity could prove overwhelming.

The path on which the UK is launched is deeply against its interests.

AR HM government admits the sovereignty argument for Brexit is invalid. Parliamentarians failed yesterday to deplore the push for Brexit in view of this admission during the second reading of the EU Notification of Withdrawal Bill.


US Army
THAAD — Terminal High Altitude Area Defense — is a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) ABM system designed to shoot down
SRBM/MRBM/IRBM in their terminal phase using a kinetic interceptor. Prime contractor: Lockheed Martin

AR China and Russia released a joint statement in January opposing plans to deploy THAAD — CNN.

Tsar Bomba


Germany Second

Jan Böhmermann

AR German humor is alive
and funny. Stay cool during
the German with subtitles:
the great bulk is in English.

Who wants to be second?

Arabella sings a song for


Come back Obama!
would prefer Obama as Prez
oppose impeaching Trump


UK parliament gives
Theresa May OK to
trigger Article 50

The United Kingdom's exit
from and new partnership
with the European Union

HM Government
PDF: 77 pages, 1.7 MB

US Grand Strategy
in the Trump Era
Colin Kahl, Hal Brands

Hacksaw Ridge
God and war — a gory story

AR When will we ever learn?


2017 February 7

Trump as Antichine

People's Daily

Since January 20, Trump has hit out on different fronts. He has lashed out at Germany, Japan and Mexico and issued a ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, but he is clear that China will certainly take retaliatory measures against his provocations. Hitting out against China will be a risky move, for which Trump needs to find a good reason and be certain about the benefits.

AR Will be suicidal for his historical reputation.

Trump as Thor

The New York Times

The Doomsday Clock stands at 150 seconds before midnight — the closest since 1953 after the United States and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs.

Donald Trump has spoken about nuking terrorists and expanding US nuclear capabilities. He wants to keep other nations on edge about whether he will go nuclear. Republican and Democratic presidents have long sought to ensure that these weapons are not used lightly.

Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu propose legislation to prohibit any president from launching a first-strike nuclear weapon without a declaration of war from Congress. The bill would not undercut the president's ability to respond on his own authority to a nuclear attack.

A Pentagon board recently proposed that the United States consider building more lower-yield nuclear weapons to provide an option for limited use in a regional conflict. The only legitimate role for nuclear weapons is deterrence. The absurd notion of a limited nuclear war needs to be rejected.

Trump commands about 4,000 nukes that he alone is empowered to launch. Any decision to do so would have to be made quickly. The president has yet to put together a nuclear strategy and has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice.

Trump has assumed office at a difficult time, a time for restraint and careful deliberation. Nuclear weapons are too dangerous to be brandished as a cudgel.

AR POTUS tweets while world burns.

Trump as Nero

Klaus Brinkbäumer

The United States president is becoming a danger to the world.

Germany must stand up in opposition to POTUS 45 and his administration. Americans gave us our liberal democracy, but we will now have to build an alliance against Donald Trump.

The president of the United States is a liar and a racist. He is attempting a coup from the top. He fired an attorney general who held a differing opinion from his own and accused her of betrayal. This is the way of the tyrant.

Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon hold science and education in contempt. We need organizations like the UN, the WTO, the IPCC, NATO, and the EU. Bannon wants to wipe them away.

President Trump fuses public concerns with nationalism and xenophobia. Demagogues work that way. The fact that he is calling for "America first" and trying to force the rest of the world into humiliating concessions is absurd.

The German economy is a target of American trade policy and German democracy is antithetical to nationalism. It is high time to stand up for democracy, freedom, and western alliances.

Europe must start planning its political and economic defenses.

AR Germans are sensitive to echoes of 1933.

2017 February 6

Bump and Trexit

Ken Clarke

You cannot put new trading barriers between yourself and the giant free trade area upon which we have been dependent for the past 30 years without making yourself poorer. I think Brexit will make us poorer. If it turns out to be at some enormous cost and it brings an end to international investment in quite a lot of sectors of the economy, then it could be a disaster.

Every US president until the present one has found us more valuable because we are the leading bridge into the EU. We carry clout because we are one of the two or three big members of the EU. We are giving all that up as well. We are a trading nation and we have political interests in all parts of the world, where we will find our voice and our clout substantially diminished.

The government have got this slogan about a global Britain and want to illustrate this by having good photo opportunities with leading figures around the world. So I suppose they thought it was quite a political coup to finally land this first meeting with Donald Trump. But we happen to have a rather unpleasant and highly unpredictable American president. Perhaps he wants to have a trade deal with us while he's busy repudiating deals with everybody else but I don't think so.

I have never seen anything as mad or chaotic as this.

EZ Rider

Wolfgang Münchau

During the EZ crisis, Germany insisted on fiscal austerity for the bloc as a whole. It also gave itself a constitutional balanced budget rule. This stops the German public sector from running a deficit that could offset the surplus of the private sector. The German structural surplus grows from tough fiscal rules and a weak currency.

US NTC head Peter Navarro: "The German structural imbalance in trade with the rest of the EU and the US underscores the economic heterogeneity within the EU."

AR The € would be stronger if UK rode EZ too.

2017 February 5

A City on a Hill

The Atlantic

America, born with the aspiration of becoming a city on a hill, is in danger of becoming a fortress. America is witnessing a new wave of nativist populism claiming to have the solutions for fighting Islamist extremists who claim to offer an alternative to globalization and American hegemony.

Trump aims to defeat radical Islamists. In fact, the incompetent text of his executive order and the ethnocentric texture of the narrative that has accompanied it are bound to fail at achieving this objective. The ban not only weakens moderates in the Muslim world, but also gives a huge propaganda victory to radical Islamists.

Only an America that is open, free, and true to its values can summon the understanding, forge the alliances, and win the broad cooperation necessary to defeat radical Islamist extremism. Only an America that welcomes immigrants and refugees will continue to innovate and prosper.

AR If Salt Lake City is a Mormon Masada, the rest is toast.

Steve Bannon


White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon negotiated a seat for himself on the National Security Council. Donald Trump is not one to cede authority, but after the first days at 1600 Pennsylvania, as one veteran Republican said, "It's already over, and Bannon won."

Bannon noted repeatedly on his radio show that "we're at war" with radical jihadis around the world. This is "a global existential war" that likely will become "a major shooting war" in the Mideast.

Born in 1953, Bannon came from a blue collar, Irish-Catholic family of Democrats. In the US Navy he earned a master's degree in national security studies from Georgetown, followed by an MBA from Harvard. From there he went to Goldman Sachs, then left to run his own firm in Hollywood.

Bannon was captivated by The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe, and made a film based on it, Generation Zero (2010, 2:02:35).

Bannon took command at Breitbart in 2012 and made it a home for the alt right: "Our big belief, one of our central organizing principles at the site, is that we're at war."

Former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro: "He regularly abuses people. He sees everything as a war. Every time he feels crossed, he makes it his business to destroy his opponent."

AR Generation Zero is terrible, dump-quality war porn.

2017 February 4

Voter Verdict

The Times

President Trump's first fortnight in the White House has pleased the voters who put him there:

"He's been outstanding" — Fred Wiseman
"I feel safer" — Sally Armstrong
"He's done what he promised" — Ron Syme

Pollster Tony Fabrizio: "The average American is tired of America being taken advantage of."

Trump has already blown it
Stephen M. Walt

Trump has squandered a genuine opportunity to put American foreign policy on a more solid footing and has managed to unite and empower opposition at home and abroad.

Trump picked several fights with China while undercutting the US position in Asia, badgered Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in an acrimonious phone call, picked another pointless fight with Mexico, announced an unlawful ban on Muslim immigrants, and shut the door on hundreds of extensively vetted refugees on Holocaust Remembrance Day — and then deliberately excluded any mention of Jews from the official statement on the day itself.

Meanwhile, he is openly flirting with a trade war that would damage the entire world economy and continuing to destabilize relations with America's closest allies.

Merkels Mauer

Der Spiegel

Kanzlerin Angela Merkel in Malta: "Wir haben es als EU der 27 in der Hand, wie stark, wie gut, wie schnell, wie präzise Europa ist und wie wir unsere Probleme lösen."

Trump beschert Merkel in der Flüchtlingskrise ein doppeltes Problem: Seine Politik beflügelt Europas Rechtspopulisten. Doch in der Flüchtlingspolitik ist die EU näher an Trump, als manche es wahrhaben wollen. Denn ähnlich wie der US-Präsident hat auch die EU nun beschlossen, an ihrer Südgrenze eine Mauer hochzuziehen — aus Sicherheitskräften, Auffanglagern und Küstenwachbooten.

AR EU builds southern border "wall" with security forces, collection camps, and coastguard boats.

Trump Takeover

Yonatan Zunger

Consider the facts:

Trump intends to do everything he said during the campaign, and more.
The regime's main organizational goal right now is to transfer all effective power to a tight
    inner circle. Departments are being reorganized or purged to effect this.
The inner circle is actively probing the means by which they can seize unchallenged power.
Crushing various groups are primary aims of the regime, and are likely to be acted on with
    greater speed than was earlier suspected.

Things can go wrong

AR Some Jewish paranoia there, but the echoes of 1933 are serious and chilling. Houston — we have a problem!

2017 February 3

A Dark View of Islam

The New York Times

President Trump has unveiled a dark vision of an America under siege by radical Islam. His suspicious view of Islam borrows from the clash of civilizations thesis of Samuel Huntington. Rejected by most serious scholars of religion and shunned by US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, this dark view of Islam has flourished on the fringes of the American right.

White House Islam critic Steve Bannon says the Judeo-Christian West is at war with Islam: "There is a major war brewing, a war that's already global. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn't act ... To be brutally frank, Christianity is dying in Europe and Islam is on the rise."

AR This crusade against Islam is as ill-starred as the Nazi crusade against Communism. Lacking is due appreciation of the inner integrity of the opponent.

A Dark View of Politics

The New York Times

Donald Trump named Stephen Bannon to the NSC principals committee and downgraded the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of national intelligence will in future attend the principals committee meetings only where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are discussed.

Trump has no grounding in national security decision making, no sophistication in governance, and little apparent grasp of how to lead a great diverse nation. Bannon has positioned himself as a trusted aide, shutting out other voices that might offer alternative views. Trump's first spasms of policy making supply ample evidence that he needs advisers who can think strategically.

AR Trump is a weak man if he cannot take moral guidance from Obama.

A New View of Computing

W. K. Hensinger et al.

A large quantum computer may best be constructed using a modular approach. A trapped ion based scalable quantum computer module could be based on microwave quantum gates constructed using silicon fabrication techniques. A proposed design makes use of ion transport between modules. An error correction code can be implemented in the architecture and the modules could be used in alternative architectures.

AR This is a good step forward.

2017 February 2

Real Reality

Anil Ananthaswamy

Quantum theory treats forces as coming in quanta, but general relativity treats gravity as a smooth and continuous force. All efforts to quantize gravity have so far failed.

Juan Maldacena showed that, for a given volume of spacetime, a string theory describing gravity inside can be mathematically equivalent to a set of quantum equations describing the boundary of the volume without gravity. Maldacena duality hinted at a connection between general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Mark Van Raamsdonk looked at how the size of wormholes between two black holes reflects the entanglement of the black holes, as seen from the outside. He found that changing the amount of entanglement between the black holes changed the width of the wormhole, as if entanglement could create spacetime.

Leonard Susskind thinks spacetime in general is created by entanglement, but complexity is an issue. Quantum systems can be in a superposition of many states, and complexity grows exponentially with the number of states. The growth of black hole quantum complexity might be connected to the growth of spacetime inside them.

Sean Carroll and his team looked at Hilbert spaces. A Hilbert space represents all the possible states of a quantum system. Any Hilbert space can be broken into smaller such spaces. Carroll worked out the entanglement between the smaller constituent spaces. His team drew graphs in which the more entangled the parts, the closer they are together, and found some graphs for which moving from one position to another was relatively smooth, suggesting the smooth geometry of space could emerge from a quantum basis.

Erik Verlinde generalized Maldacena duality from anti-de Sitter space, which has a well defined boundary and volume, to our spacetime by seeing our cosmic horizon as a boundary. He showed how spacetime and gravity can emerge from entanglement and explain away dark energy.

Entanglement is information: the greater the entanglement between two systems, the more information they share. Quantum information underlying spacetime is not of or about anything. Qubits might be the foundation of real reality.

AR Continuing my own speculation (blog January 7), our growing spacetime bubble has a Maldacena boundary that we picture as a transparent threshold into a potentially infinite further spacetime. We can also see it as a firewall to uncountably many entangled qubits. With duality my bubble idea becomes a fruitful image rather than an odd fantasy.

2017 February 1

US v China

David Leonhardt

China remains far less powerful than the United States. But it has come a long way. Its economic progress and its ambitions, plus the size of its population, mean that China has become the only other potential global superpower.

Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The pact was always more about geopolitics than economics. Much of the Pacific Rim, including Australia, Vietnam and Malaysia, welcomed it as a way to offset Chinese power in Asia.

China is now trying to put together a different trade pact with some of the same countries. If China succeeds, it will gain more sway in Asia. Beijing will be able to say the United States has only a transactional interest in Asia.

AR Scrapping TPP — US own goal.

Tusk v Trump

BBC News

European Council President Donald Tusk warns that "worrying declarations" from US President Donald Trump challenge the EU.

In a letter to EU-27 leaders, Tusk said the new US administration was part of an external threat that also included an assertive China, an aggressive Russia, and radical Islam.

Tusk: "We cannot surrender to those who want to weaken or invalidate the Transatlantic bond, without which global order and peace cannot survive. We should remind our American friends of their own motto: United we stand, divided we fall."

AR US v EU — a tale of two Donalds.

Bannon v National Security

Asawin Suebsaeng

President Trump has appointed Stephen Bannon to the National Security Council. Bannon served seven years in the US Navy several decades ago and made his name in the private sector, Hollywood, and politics. He is obsessed with military history and the art of war.

A former Hollywood associate: "He constantly used military terms ... always spoke in terms of aggression. It was always on-the-attack, double down ... macho stuff."

Bannon: "Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment."

Hollywood writing partner and former close friend Julia Jones: "Steve is a strong militarist, he's in love with war — it's almost poetry to him. He's studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome ... every battle, every war ... Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness ... He talked a lot about Sparta — how Sparta defeated Athens, he loved the story."

Bannon for NSC?
Nicole Gaouette

The National Security Council is a Cabinet-level group of agencies focused on national security that was established by President George H. W. Bush in 1989.

Former acting CIA chief Michael Morell: "Having somebody like Bannon in the room brings politics into a room where there should be no politics."

Senator Bernie Sanders: "Steve Bannon sitting on the National Security Council is dangerous and unprecedented. He must be removed."

Senator John McCain: "I am worried about the National Security Council ... The appointment of Mr. Bannon is ... a radical departure from any National Security Council in history."

AR Bannon — the hammer for Trump's Thor.

USS Georgia

USN photo # N-1841C-042
Ohio-class boomer USS Georgia (commissioned as SSBN-729 in 1984, redesignated to SSGN-729 in 2004).
Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines are set to replace them from 2031.


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